It is finished
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Symphony plumbs Mahler’s Fifth in season finale
It’s only a hypothesis.
Maybe Lansing Symphony maestro Timothy Muffitt and his gang were worried people would ask for a refund when they saw Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony on Review the bill for Saturday’s season finale.
First, they showed why the Schubert is really complete in its two parts. In the first movement, the music seems to bang its head against a wall, like a person working out a difficult problem. Saturday’s performance eloquently expressed tension, effort and frustration, with just the right hint of hysteria at the end.
The second movement seems to offer a solution by settling down to purposeful work. There’s a continuous “thump, thump, thump,” like highway stripes slipping by as you think your road-trip thoughts. Sometimes the thump is explicit; at other times it’s only implied. At one point it just stops and your mind keeps it going through the silence. Muffitt and the band passed this vital throb from soloist to soloist, section to section, without losing the thread or even calling attention to their skill.
You knew it was going to get heavy when timpanist Mark Johnson stayed on stage during intermission. While the other musicians ducked out for a Camel or a Zagnut, Johnson snuck into Mahler land, practicing his rumbles and booms for the tumult to come.
Mahler’s Fifth is an exhausting emotional journey, but Muffitt and the band sprang through it all, from bleak foothills to bright heights, without a significant slip. There were a few droopy patches, especially toward the end, as the orchestra began to tire, but I’ve heard the same thing happen to Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony with the same music. This is a marathon, after all.
Overwhelmingly, all the notes were there, but technical accomplishment wasn’t even the point. Among Muffitt’s many accomplishments as music director — perhaps the most important — is that he has definitively turned the symphony’s musical face toward the audience. Even when the going got tough, there wasn’t a moment when it seemed as if the musicians were up there to gratify themselves or work out some abstract task. They kept up the emotional intensity, never lost sight of the music’s inner logic and brought the listeners right with them through all 72 minutes.
Not only does Mahler exult in life’s extremes, he dares to declare their essential unity. Saturday’s performance really dug into this unsettling androgyny of good and evil. Sometimes the horror was exhilarating and the beauty dragged like a ball and chain.