Franz Welser-Möst led an incisive and gripping performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in which the Cleveland Orchestra not only created beautiful sounds but also played with great coherence and unity. The strings were particularly effective in the opening movement, beginning with the stormy opening passage on double basses and cellos that keeps recurring to disrupt the violins’ repeated allusions to the ‘Resurrection’ theme that will be the Symphony’s climax. Welser-Möst sustained that persistent tension throughout this opener, in essence a funeral march, with resonant brass setting a slow, steady pace and winds contributing plaintive solos. Tempos and dynamics were well-managed to keep the music from dragging and to sustain dramatic tension as moods changed.
Eschewing Mahler’s request for a pause of five minutes between the first two movements, Welser-Möst waited only long enough for Joélle Harvey and Sasha Cooke to enter before launching the Andante, in which the cellos offered a sweet melody against the Ländler-rhythm counterpoint of muted violins and violas. Mahler described the Andante as a kind of intermezzo between four thematically linked movements, but Welser-Möst and the Clevelanders added much of consequence in contrast to the dance’s naive charm. The Scherzo, Saint Anthony preaching to the fishes, surged forward jauntily, with noteworthy woodwind and trumpet solos, ending on a tam-tam stroke and a growl from contrabassoon and horns, followed by Cooke’s penetration into the opening line of an extraordinarily beautiful and moving traversal of ‘Urlicht’. Her glorious voice soared with crystalline clarity imbuing the text with sincere reverence.
The sudden thunderous opening of the Finale initiated a progression from darkness to light and from despair to hope, a sort of microcosm of the arc of the Symphony as a whole from the funereal to the ethereal (in Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode, which Mahler adapted and expanded). Passages played off-stage – flute and piccolo emulating birdsong, a marching band – were highly effective, thanks in large measure to the excellent acoustic, which also benefited the vocal soloists and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. Its hushed, a cappella entry began the Ode, soon joined by Harvey and glowing orchestral intonations. After Cooke’s and Harvey’s admonitions to believe (“O glaube”), they and the choir (now standing) declared belief in eternal life and reincarnation, the orchestra bringing the Symphony to an exuberant and joyous conclusion, replete with brass fanfares and pealing bells.