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Mahler Symphony No 3
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, David Berlin vc, Karen Cargill ms, Women of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus and National Boys’ Choir of Australia/Markus Stenz
Hamer Hall, August 9
It was a night to remember – for all the right reasons. Returning to its newly refurbished home after an absence of some two years, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra poured out intensely committed performances in a generous program under the charismatic leadership of its former chief conductor, Markus Stenz.
This first of three special programs celebrating the orchestra’s homecoming began with principal cellist David Berlin in Ross Edwards’s Water Spirit Song, a short lyrical utterance that hauntingly filled the hall’s darkened spaces.
The full orchestra then gave the Australian premiere of Thomas Adès’ Polaris, a dynamic and colourful score that incorporated some spatially separated brass groups, giving listeners a sense of the acoustic dimensions of the hall. The accompanying video, projected on screens above the orchestra, was no match for the power of the music’s thundering, nautically inspired climaxes.
Mahler’s sprawling but marvellous Third Symphony found orchestra and conductor in splendid form. Thanks to the hall's vastly improved acoustics, the primal heartbeat that pervades the monumental first movement was felt rather than heard. Individual timbres are now better delineated and the bloom of orchestral sound no longer remains earthbound as it did before.
Using “standard” orchestral seating (with massed violins to the left) for the Adès, then (appropriately) dividing violins left and right for the Mahler, gave the audience a further insight into the theatre's acoustic properties, as did the distant post horn in the third movement.
Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill made her contributions with admirable warmth and clarity; qualities also exhibited by the women and boys in the fifth movement. Laden with nostalgia (but utterly no sentimentality), the valedictory finale worked its charms on musicians and audience alike, bringing to a close what was indeed a spectacular and I would say triumphant return.