Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach
Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Anne Sofie von Otter: Mezzo-soprano
The women in the Choral Arts Society of Washington
Children's Chorus of Washington
After deciding to finally head back to Washington, DC for a long-overdue extended weekend, I was happily surprised to notice that my visit would coincide with the National Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler's sprawling Symphony No. 3 under the baton of its current music director Christoph Eschenbach. Maybe not exactly a light-hearted way to start my little jaunt in our nation' capital, but certainly a welcome walk down memory lane all the way to the Kennedy Center's concert hall with my former NSO buddy Jennifer. To make the occasion even more special, on Friday evening the record-breaking 80 degree temperature (?!) and de rigueur accompanying high humidity brought us right back to the many sultry summer nights spent on the Kennedy Center's terrace yakking away while gazing at the Georgetown lights.
Mahler's Symphony No. 3 opens with a movement so long (over 30 minutes) and so chaotic, frequently sounding unsure of where it is going, that making it to the end intact can be a rather daunting challenge. But then, in drastic contrast to all the opening turmoil, the second movement is simply and undisputedly lovely. The third movement has its fair share of light and darkness, and a memorable posthorn solo, before the music moves on to the mysterious fourth movement and Nietzsche's "Midnight Song" from Also sprach Zarathustra. The cheerful, folk-inspired children's chorus stands out in the fifth movement, which is followed by the peaceful and eventually triumphant sixth movement.
There is a lot to take in from the endlessly complex work, much more than can be grasped in one performance, no matter how enlightening it happens to be. Friday night's concert had a lot going for it, including staunchly committed conductor, musicians and singers, who did their best to maintain a solid momentum and the ever-precarious balance of the whole enterprise. Even if they did not always succeed, the experience was often so intense that it did not leave much room to quibble about details. It was a real pleasure to hear Anne Sofie von Otter's beautiful voice soar from the center of the chorister section, and the women of the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Children's Chorus of Washington provided a delightful human touch to the gigantic endeavor. The journey ended with a majestic Adagio, which leisurely unfolded to reach its gloriously life-affirming conclusion. The NSO is decidedly doing well.