Good stuff Mahler
Symphony outdoes itself with The Titan
Gustav Mahler, commenting on his First Symphony sometime after it was written, wrote of the “great questions” the symphonic “worlds” he created addressed: “Why have you lived? Why have you suffered? Has it all been a huge frightful joke? We must all somehow answer these questions, if we are to continue living, yes, even if we are to continue dying.”
Despite the skepticism of these remarks and despite the dark irony in “The Death of the Hunter,” a popular print showing animals gleefully carrying a dead hunter to his grave that served to influence the Symphony’s third section, the Redding audience chuckled with delight at the end of each movement the North State Symphony played Sunday afternoon.
It was, I think, partly the appealing cleverness of Mahler’s design, partly the playfulness of his innovations and, certainly, some sense of the greater human comedy (which is not without its tragic moments) that delighted and captured the audience.
And it was the symphony’s masterful playing and Conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett’s firm direction that pulled it off—a good performance in Chico and a fine performance in Redding’s gorgeous Cascade Theatre.
Basically, Mahler’s work is pastoral in flavor, opening with the soft, shimmering sound of a lovely summer morning, some rumblings from Nature’s deeper powers, various morning birdsongs, and a kind of hunter’s fanfare calling us forth into the day. Mahler mixes and plays with these various elements, rising to a first and then a second splashy climax.
The second movement opens with a heavy-footed, three-stress farmers’ dance reminiscent of the farmers’ dance in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, and then, continuing to paint a natural setting, works that same three-stress pattern into an elegant Viennese waltz before returning to the farmers’ stomping.
The third movement is a minor masterpiece. It begins with a fugue, which is actually the familiar “Frère Jacques” played in a dismal minor. Then it sets this dirge-like melody against a slightly out-of-tune gypsy band with its Middle-Eastern harmonies and sobbing violins. Throughout this (and all the movements), recognizable elements from earlier sections keep popping up, especially slightly diabolic echoes of the “hunter’s fanfare” that float above the dead hunter’s funeral procession.
The fourth movement opens with a boom (reminiscent of the whole-universe chords of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) and then, under the increasingly pounding strains of the French Epiphany hymn, “Trois Grands Rois” ("Three Great Kings"), mixes everything together, returns to the shimmer and birdsongs of the beginning, and finally, shifting in and out of minor, works elements of the “hunter’s fanfare” into a grand, skeptical-but-positive conclusion.
Such glib summaries (and there are many) aside, the accessible and tuneful playfulness of the whole, the recognizable motifs and the delicious scene-painting are able to capture any audience, and they certainly did Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Add to this two engaging performances by local symphony prize-winners—12-year-old Jeremiah Trujillo playing the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto softly but most articulately and CSU senior Amber Miller playing the Allegro from Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto with exceptional musicality—and you have a truly fine concert.