Alexandria Symphony Orchestra performs Mahler, Rachmaninoff

May 15, 2011

Mahler’s symphonies may be some people’s definition of an eternity, but Kim Allen Kluge and his Alexandria Symphony Orchestra offered a nicely paced and clearly defined reading of his Symphony No. 1, the “Titan,” at Alexandria’s Schlesinger Concert Hall on Saturday that, despite occasional indecisiveness, never dragged.

This is a big Mahler year — the 100th anniversary of his death — and the symphonies present a challenge to the area’s numerous county orchestras that want to mark the event, not least because of the sheer size of the forces needed (during the last of this piece’s exultations in the Finale, Kluge had his horns, all eight of them, stand for their final blast, a stage-wide display of shining brass). That the ASO pulled it off so well is testimony both to Kluge and to the quality of his musicians, a group that has improved steadily over the years.

The piece is full of sudden shifts in momentum — places where time seems to stop and just hang there — and these Kluge handled masterfully. Just as suddenly, however, these Mahlerian musical languors tend to be followed by a resurrected vigor and, while Kluge did a good job of firing up the tempos, injecting the needed intensity tended to take a little longer.

Garrick Ohlsson was the soloist in the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, giving a beautifully thought-out performance that highlighted the care and clarity he is so well known for. In the few places where thundering was called for, he thundered magnificently, but for the most part he spoke most eloquently through the transparency and agility of the cascades of notes in fast passages and the carefully weighted and released individual notes in the slow and quiet moments. After a few minutes of mutual adjusting at the beginning, Ohlsson and the orchestra found a comfortable working partnership.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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