Gustav Mahler’s symphonies encompass the the extremes of life, the greatest joy and the depths of despair. All of Mahler’s divergent artistic impulses — nature, fate, country life, love, death — find expression in his Symphony No. 6 in A minor. The Cleveland Orchestra under music director Franz Welser-Möst gave an audacious performance of this dark masterpiece Friday night at the Arsht Center.
In pre-performance remarks, Welser-Möst related the score to the influence of Sigmund Freud’s writings, believing the score explores Mahler’s subconscious mind. Welser-Möst’s reading of this 80-minute work was not prettified Mahler. Vast extremes of volume and emotion surged through a performance of unflagging energy and thrust.
The grim march that opens the symphony moved at a crisp pace and the secondary theme was almost frenzied, the romanticism underplayed. An ominous motif from the trombones turned into a macabre death chant when taken up by the full ensemble. The splendid, unison strings produced a plush vibrant sonority and the large brass section sounded terrific in the big climaxes. In a brief solo moment of repose, concertmaster William Preucil’s honeyed violin tone offered a touch of Viennese schmaltz.
The opening string melody of the Andante sounded lustrous and rich, the entire movement rendered with the subtlety of a fine chamber music performance. Mixing passion with darkness, Welser-Möst gave careful attention to Mahler’s dynamic markings and illuminated a myriad of instrumental details. The tinkle of the celesta was precisely balanced and clear over strings and winds, and the clarion ring of Michael Sachs’ trumpet streamed through the orchestral texture.
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The third movement emerged not as a country dance but a wild Scherzo taken at fierce speed. Screaming winds and blaring brass rattled the ensemble. Even the strings’ bucolic landler theme was punctuated with thunderous volleys from the two timpani and mallet percussion.
The sprawling, nearly 30-minute finale can seem episodic, but Welser-Möst masterfully pulled together the movement’s veering emotional trajectory. Yaushito Sugiyama’s tuba solo was rounded and strong, the ensuing brass chorale eloquently stated. Welser-Möst brought almost demonic intensity to the march-like theme and the sheer velocity of the two hammer blows was stunning. The score’s bleak final pages were expertly coordinated, the final A minor massed chord and soft conclusion registering real impact and long silence observed by an admirably quiet audience.
The Clevelanders were in magnificent form, playing like the world-class orchestra they are when at their best. First-chair wind and brass players were particularly outstanding. Richard King imbued the horn solos with both power and poignant emotion. Also contributing important and demanding moments were oboist Frank Rosenwein, flutist Joshua Smith, clarinetist Ricardo Morales, bassoonist John Clouser, and Massimo La Rosa, trombone.
The Cleveland Orchestra’s concerts next season will mark the ensemble’s 10th Miami residency. Now that he has presented epic Mahler symphonies, it is past time for Welser-Möst to bring the symphonies of Anton Bruckner to Miami as well. He has received high praise for his performances of these monumental scores, and Miami deserves to hear this important part of the orchestra’s working repertoire as well.
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