On a blustering night with a frozen carpet of snow beneath, a lucky audience in OTR’s Music Hall was captivated by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s performance of “Mozart + Mahler,” a repertoire that warmed the heart while giving hope.
Conductor Louis Langrée first met guest conductor and May Festival Music Director Laureate James Conlon at a concert which paired Schubert and Mahler. Now, years later, Conlon comes to Music Hall quite fittingly, to conduct music from these two classical icons.
Schubert’s Overture to “Rosemunde,” D. 644, is a work dominated by strings with a relatively small orchestra. Woodwinds start a graceful melody that travels throughout the ensemble, being called and answered so innocently.
This leads to an equally fresh start—like spring upon us—as we are captivated by violinist Jennifer Frautschi as she masterfully shares Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 216. Mozart’s music is playful, youthful and carefree, with an elegance that Frautschi both teases and shares with her audience. Call and response, like birds and other new life trying so hard to pop though a hardened ground, make this a joy to listen to as we anticipate spring’s arrival. Frautschi teases the season but is equally strong in communicating where she is going, with an especially expressive Adagio. The piece—led by the strings—has a surprise ending defined so quickly and succinctly by the woodwinds.
After intermission, with a winter whiteout in progress, the audience is taken to a new land—one that’s majestic and harmonious with a complete story of its own. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra—100 musicians or more—pulls off “Titan,” Mahler’s first symphony. As a composer who learned from Beethoven and constantly strove to define the next era in classical composition, Mahler’s first work is nothing short of magnificent, and the perfect fit for such skilled musicians.
The beginning of the first movement is surreal—ominous and foretelling with trumpets signaling the journey we’ll take. Woodwinds respond in anticipation. And then the CSO comes together, enjoying the music they’re playing and one another equally in their harmonious art form. We’re again reminded of spring—could this day get any better? Perhaps, because grandeur is ready to happen. Drama, marked by several slight movements in half-steps—minor key transitions—keep our attention while melodies are interwoven, with the trumpets prepared to save the day.
The second movement is equally grand and the orchestra looks like there could be nothing more enjoyable to play. The third movement has several gorgeous solos, from the bass to oboes and clarinet. This melody sounds a bit like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” but then becomes an Egyptian or Eastern European dance. Or is a brawl with sailors? And what’s the role of the cymbals in all of this? Are they breaking up the fun or coming to the rescue?
This movement leads right into the fourth and final part of the symphony, and it’s difficult to stay in your chair—eyes are drawn to multiple parts of the orchestra, all at the same time. Everyone is harmonizing at a whole new level and in one portion of the movement, I believe I may have heard the most romantic thread of music possible, and yet, it’s followed by an equally tumultuous response that makes you just slightly seasick or lovesick, wondering where you’ll be transported next.
Mahler’s music is only for the serious orchestra. We have that here. BIG music, magnificently executed.
Kathy DeBrosse is Vice President, Marketing & Engagement at ArtsWave.