Review: Zander leads ASO in intricate reading of Mahler’s Fifth

The Albany Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Benjamin Zander performed one of the great maste

The Albany Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Benjamin Zander performed one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century Saturday night at the Palace Theatre before a large crowd.

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, composed at the turn of the last century, is the kind of work that even someone unfamiliar with Mahler’s music would fall in love with. It has everything: marvelous melodies, wide-ranging moods from anguish to triumphant, a complex score in which there’s something always going on, and novel ideas on chord resolutions and melodic distribution.

At the helm was Zander, who is considered a pre-eminent Mahler interpreter with several awards and Grammy Award nominations to his credit. Based on this performance, his Mahler was not a sweeping, all-encompassing Mahler. Rather, it was a detailed, highly analyzed, and intricately layered interpretation that ignored no swell, no accent, or sudden shift in volume. He was faithful to the score to the nth degree.

This sometimes gave the music a more vertical presentation, which depending on the tempo, made the music settle rather than propel outward. Zander seemed taken up with the immediate rather than where the music was going. He also had a predilection for the softer volumes, especially when they were highly nuanced.

The orchestra sounded very good and was attentive to Zander’s demands. Principal trumpet Eric Berlin led the brass with forcefulness and precision. He opened the work with a solo that is required at almost every trumpet audition and which galvanizes the orchestra and listener with its immediacy. Berlin was on top of every phrase throughout the evening.

The first movement had plenty of boldness, shifting tempos and busy strings. In the anxious and lushly dramatic second section, Zander carefully kept balances tight to keep the many lines clear. The famous Adagietto was ethereal, haunting, serenely beautiful and well phrased. The final movement was signature Mahler with his distinctive use of woodwinds for color, lush strings and celebratory brass.

Also on the program was Strauss’ “Emperor Waltzes,” which Zander made too much of. It needed more swirl, romance and fun and less caution and delicacy, attention to details, and control.

The next ASO concert is Feb. 25 with the Parnas sisters.

Categories: Entertainment

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