Conductor: Daniele Gatti
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
The Netherlands Radio Choir
Annette Dasch: Soprano
Karen Cargill: Mezzo-Soprano
Because one can never get too much of a good thing, on Wednesday, after enjoying a delightful chamber music concert mid-day, I was back at the Concertgebouw a few hours later for the real thing, and found myself in the sold-out large concert hall to hear the full Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Daniele Gatti, its new music director, and the Netherlands Radio Choir perform Mahler's stupendous Resurrection symphony, whose Dutch premiere the composer incidentally conducted at the Concertgebouw back in 1904, six years after having conducted the work's world premiere in Berlin and simultaneously kicked off his composing career in earnest. Although I would have been happy to hear them perform pretty much anything, I found it especially exciting that this particular program would be the one making my bucket list shorter.
But that was not all as this first experience ended up being even closer and more personal than I had imagined. As I was eagerly walking toward my seat in the perfectly sized, acoustically blessed and visually attractive concert hall, I quickly realized that for better or worse I would be sitting exactly three rows behind the timpani section and spitting distance from the chorus, which at least had the advantage to ensure that if any unsuspected remnants of jet lag surfaced, I would not be dozing off for long.
Putting myself through one of Mahler's sprawling symphonies often feels to me like an extremely condensed therapy session, or at least what I guess an extremely condensed therapy session would be like. The composer was obviously not afraid of tackling big existential issues and used all the musical instruments at his disposal to look for the ever-elusive answers. In the right company, the journey is typically long, intense and thrilling.
In the Resurrection Symphony, Maher sets the tone right away with a monumental first movement that includes a funeral match and take-no-prisoners surges, and turns out to be no less than a highly dramatic symphonic poem searching for the meaning of life. Since we were in the right company, the search was emotionally charged and distinctly urgent, leaving no stone unturned and no note unplayed.
On the other hand, the second movement is a gentle minuet, whose main goal could very well be to relieve the relentless tension that preceded it. But the charmingly lilting break soon made way for the implacable macabre humor of the third movement. Effortlessly switching from delicate sunshine to dark sarcasm, the orchestra polished off the instrumental part of the symphony with force and authority.
With valuable contributions from the remarkable soloists and the commanding chorus, the fourth movement, written for alto solo and reduced orchestra, was beautifully elegiac and peaceful before the apocalyptic fifth movement powerfully swept everything away in one of the most transcendental climaxes of classical music, the type that hurts so good that you do not want it to end ever.
Close enough to the action not to miss a single beat, I ecstatically reveled in the all-encompassing grandeur of it all, now secure in the knowledge that sometimes dreams do come true.