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Florida Orchestra keeps an outsized Mahler piece in check

TAMPA — Mahler was haunted by death, and that's what his Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) is all about. And it's a 19th century romantic conception of death, full of pealing brass fanfares, pounding percussion and a large chorus.

In fact, it's similar in sound and fury — though with less singing — to Verdi's Requiem, which was the previous work the Florida Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay performed together this season.

Mahler's Second is a big deal, and the orchestra fielded all its musicians plus a few more under music director Stefan Sanderling Friday in Morsani Hall of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The percussion section was expanded to include two sets of timpani. Still, the stage could have been even more crowded, considering that Mahler called for as many as 10 French horns and eight trumpets. The orchestra made do with five horns and three trumpets. (Extra musicians cost money, no small thing for orchestras these days.)

The Resurrection is an outsized work in length as well, but Sanderling's reading was positively brisk, clocking in at 85 minutes, with no intermission. (Leonard Bernstein dragged it out to 93 minutes in a 1987 recording.) Nor did he ask the orchestra to play with the ferocity you often hear in Mahler, but appeared to be going for a classical refinement at times.

Only in the second movement, which stands apart from the rest of the symphony with its lyrical, almost Viennese waltz style, did conductor and orchestra lose their way when the soft pizzicato section at the end seemed a bit random. But then the performance regained momentum in the glamorous third movement and the final two movements when voices join the orchestra.

The vocal soloists were mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop and soprano Marie Plette, and Bishop in particular made a dramatic impression. Her song in the fourth movement was a perfect jewel, beautifully echoed in a solo by principal oboe Katherine Young. Bishop and Plette and the chorus sailed through the finale's tumultuous depiction of Judgment Day, redemption and resurrection in sensational fashion.

This weekend's program winds up the orchestra's masterworks season. It's also the last time the Master Chorale will have been prepared by artistic director Richard Zielinski, who is moving on to Oklahoma. As the group's energetic leader since 2001, he did a fine job and will be missed.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He writes for Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

If you go

Mahler's Second

Program repeats at 8 tonight at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $19-$65. (727) 892-3337; floridaorchestra.org.

Florida Orchestra keeps an outsized Mahler piece in check 05/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:26pm]
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