Impassioned Mahler “Resurrection” marks a fitting close to Heatherington era at Lake Forest Symphony

Sat May 18, 2013 at 11:46 am

By Tim Christiansen

Alan Heatherington conducted the Lake Forest Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 Friday night in Grayslake.

Alan Heatherington was appointed music director of the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra in 2000. Since then the Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice honored him with the title of “Conductor of the Year” in 2005 and 2012.

When he approached the podium in the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts in Grayslake Friday night, he was greeted with warm applause and a standing ovation for this penultimate performance with the orchestra. After 12 seasons, Heatherington is departing the Lake Forest Symphony.

Friday, Heatherington guided the orchestra through the dense score of Mahler’s Second Symphony, “Resurrection,” in an intense and  spellbinding performance that truly explored the emotional extremes of the piece and its profound subject matter.

In 1888 Mahler composed a single-movement symphonic poem entitled, Totenfeier (Funeral Rite), which later became the first movement of the Second Symphony. Over the next six years, Mahler worked on the score, which gradually began to take shape, completing it in 1894.

Mahler knew he wanted the final movement to feature chorus and soloists, but struggled to find the proper text. At the funeral of fellow conductor and friend, Hans von Bülow, Mahler heard Friedrich Klopstock’s poem, Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection) sung, and finally found the words. The symphony contemplates ends and beginnings, life and death, ending in the words, “Rise again, thou shalt rise again.”

With a great sweeping motion Heatherington gave the downbeat and the strings’ fierce tremolo began the 80-minute journey. The syncopated, lopsided undercurrent of the first movement played in the lower strings was clear and incisively phrased with great cohesion to each episode. The waltz rhythm of the second movement had a natural flow, and the tone of the violins was highlighted as they swept freely together.

The third movement features a long flowing line of sixteenth notes that passes through the orchestra. The interplay and handing-off of the idea was done seamlessly with the volatile interruptions of the flowing movement never allowed to spin out of control.

In the central vocal movement Urlicht (Primeval Light), mezzo-soprano Sarah Holman sang with a lovely, tender tone though her placement amid the choir resulted in a rather buried sound.

The final movement was attacked with great energy and enthusiasm, with the offstage horn and trumpet calls effectively done. After sitting silently for over an hour, the Chicago Master Singers entered at a hushed triple pianissimo. Their sound was well balanced, with the slowly shifting harmonies unfolding easily and with a unified tone. The soprano soloist, Michelle Areyzaga, blossomed from the choral sound organically and beautifully.

Heatherington guided the orchestra through the finale with great care, alertly balancing the vast forces. The sound coming from the stage was truly astonishing – incredibly loud without ever being coarse. The final bars made Mahler’s symphony feel like a complete journey, and proved a fitting end to Heatherington’s artistic leadership of the north suburban ensemble, the Lake Forest musicians delivering a performance of great passion, intensity and conviction.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Impassioned Mahler “Resurrection” marks a fitting close to Heatherington era at Lake Forest Symphony”

  1. Posted May 19, 2013 at 6:42 am by Tod Verklärung

    Mahler’s Symphony #2 is effective in virtually any competent performance. It was that on Saturday night, when I heard the repeat of the event that Mr. Christiansen reviewed. But, for me at least, there was much that was missing. Mr. Heatherington and his forces created a reverential, stately, methodical rendition of this piece. What they missed was its wildness, pain, and passion. There was little terror here, even in the musical recreation of the “Day of Judgment.” The mezzo-soprano soloist was barely adequate; the soprano somewhat better. The dynamic range of the orchestra was limited by their inability to play very quietly, thus undercutting the contrasting climaxes. To the good, everyone sounded very well rehearsed and earnest; and the chorus’s first entry had magic . Unfortunately, however, the plodding, ever-so-careful pacing of much of the piece lead to a kind of “Dresden China” presentation of about 90 minutes (even discounting the break between the first and second movements), not one that tore at the heart and made the pulse race. The Mahler “Resurrection” is almost always worth hearing. This one, however, could have been much more than that.

  2. Posted May 20, 2013 at 1:53 am by Andy Cohn

    Concerts don’t get better, different yes. Seeing and hearing Alan is as good as it gets. Mahler’s last concert after conducting 10 years arguably the best Symphony in the world, the Vienna Opera Philharmonic, is the same work Alan conducted completing his 23 years with the Lake Forest Symphony, that being Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.

    The Orchestra performed as passionately as the wonder and force of life and death, and life after death, that, which Mahler’s 2nd Symphony libretto is all about.

    Sitting on the edge of your seat for 90 minutes, captured by the power of the moment, the music carrying the mind to places of clarity and good thoughts, progresses the human race to less suffering and greater peace.

    This is what Alan does. No one is better.

    Like death, Alan ends his tenure with the Lake Forest Symphony, and like death, ponder after death, even look for it, cause with Alan, it will sound as good as it gets.

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