Celebrating its 50th season, the Indianapolis Symphony appeared at the Kennedy Center Saturday night in a performance of Mahler's mighty Second Symphony that was triumphant in spirit if not in execution.
It was in some ways an act of faith to present the symphony, given the weakness of the brass which is crucial to this work as, indeed, to most of Mahler's music. However, conductor John Nelson's solid grasp of the score and unwavering drive pushed the orchestra into an interpretation that was consistently satisfying and, at its best, inspired.
Mahler himself acknowledged this symphony's intense, sprawling character when he wrote of it that "You are battered to the ground with clubs and then lifted to the heights on angels' wings." Nelson did a splendid job of pacing the many shifts in mood and tempo, sustaining the drama through to the final, thundering affirmation. Undaunted by poor brass attacks, a few intonation problems in the strings and some flubbed percussion passages, Nelson kept his eye -- and the orchestra's -- on projecting the music to the audience, which responded with a standing ovation.
On the vocal side the participants were uniformly superb. With her rich, expressive singing, contralto Maureen Forrester demonstrated once more why she has few peers in the interpretation of Mahler. Soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson brought a soaring clarity to her part and Paul Traver's University of Maryland Chorus delivered its resurrection theme with exceptional musicality.