It wasn't the first time the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra had programmed Mahler's Second Symphony as a song of farewell for its music director.
Twelve years ago, James Judd relinquished the post by conducting this symphonic titan; this weekend, Edo de Waart signed off his four years at the helm with a performance of appropriately Mahlerian stature.
Gustav Mahler is the ultimate master of musical immersion. Massive orchestral and choral forces engulfed the Auckland Town Hall stage while off-stage, extra brass and percussion evoked the clamour of worlds beyond our concert hall confines. Inevitably, a rapt and near full house was easily won over, to the last soul.
De Waart's masterly entrapment set off with an inexorable first movement. The composer described this symphonic poem in its own right with unanswerable questions: "Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Is it all nothing but a cruel jest?" — challenges made more vivid with tiptoe pianissimo, bittersweet woodwind tunes and wild orchestral storms.
Two dances followed. The first, sedately pleasant and cheerful, was set in the warm glow of the NZSO superb strings; the second was edgier, as if a song from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn had crossed to the dark side, with yodelling clarinets and clattering col legno strings.
As Beethoven did in his final symphony, Mahler turned to words at this point. Swedish mezzo, Anna Larsson, illuminated his Urlicht testament of faith against exquisitely delicate orchestral detail.
Mahler's grand finale, seven movements in one, laid out over an ear-watering 36 minutes, offers resolution. American soprano Lauren Snouffer joined Larsson in glorious duet, alongside the sonorous forces of Auckland Choral and Voices NZ.
It is in this movement, magnificently marshalled by de Waart, that we are made aware of the world impinging both on and off stage, with visceral blasts of drumrolls, magisterial organ, the clanging of bells and celebratory chorale. What was doubtlessly catharsis for its composer became the perfect tribute to a departing maestro.
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What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - Mahler Symphony No. 2 Resurrection
Where: Auckland Town Hall