Cleveland Orchestra shines in a resounding performance of Mahler’s mammoth Third Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Franz Welser-Möst conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 Friday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: ©2012 Carl Juste/Iris PhotoCollective

The Cleveland Orchestra’s expanding Miami residency reached a landmark with the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 Friday night at the Arsht Center. This program marks the ensemble’s first appearances in November, and a full house greeted the conclusion of the hour-and-forty minute score—Mahler’s most rarely played symphony—with a prolonged ovation.

Mahler ambitiously set out to express the totality of life, love and nature in this mammoth score. The tension between beauty and irony so typical of the composer’s music pervades this symphony to an even greater degree, and the challenge of balancing those conflicting artistic impulses was brilliantly met by music director Franz Welser-Möst who led a spacious, glowing performance that built to a soaring final movement.

Avoiding the emotional overkill of many Mahler performances, Welser-Möst’s sure pacing and vast range of dynamics from nearly whispered pizzicatos to raucous martial climaxes steadily built tension and momentum, presenting the score as a journey rather than a grand showpiece. The clarity of instrumental detailing was so transparent that even the final notes of the tambourine at the conclusion of the opening movement were fully audible amidst a full-throttled ensemble fortissimo.

The Cleveland players were in top form, with tight and precise ensemble. From the emphatic opening horn calls, the burnished brass tones recalled the sound of such fabled European ensembles as the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics. In the extended trombone solos of the lengthy first movement, Massimo La Rosa played with an intense fervor that vividly channeled Mahler’s darker visions, his sound golden and sonorous. The lean, elegant violin solos of concertmaster William Preucil were rendered in honeyed Viennese hues.

Cleveland’s splendidly disciplined strings turned on a dime from the second movement’s stately minuet to the hair-trigger changes of mood and pulse in the Scherzando. Encompassing both the aristocratic ländler and edgy, macabre brass interjections, Welser-Möst warmly sculpted the posthorn interlude, played offstage by trumpeter Michael Sachs. The mellow richness of Sachs’ tone and Welser-Möst’s deft balancing conveyed the music’s sentimental, melodic nostalgia.

Bernarda Fink’s deep, nearly vibrato-less mezzo imbued the setting of Nietzsche’s night song with an aura of mystery.  Frank Rosenwein’s oboe and Jeffrey Rathbun’s English horn solos enhanced the plaintive mood. The spirited fifth movement emerged sprightly and joyous, the fresh, bright voices of the Miami Children’s Chorus and beautiful high tones of female members of the Frost Symphonic Chorale and Master Chorale of South Florida were vociferous in rousing celebration with the glockenspiel adding springy underpinning.

From the first subdued tones of the concluding movement, the exquisite string sound provided a silky cushion for an outpouring of glowing passion, almost Wagnerian in intensity. Welser-Möst’s tightly controlled direction built gradually to a blazing climax, the orchestral crescendo in full cry at the transformation of the opening horn theme.

This Mahler symphony was one of Welser-Möst’s finest performances to date in the Cleveland Orchestra’s Miami residency. Noted for his interpretations of the symphonies of his Austrian compatriot Anton Bruckner, it is time for Welser-Möst to program some of those masterpieces in Miami.

The Cleveland Orchestra repeats Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 at 8 p.m Saturday at the Arsht Center. 305-949-6722

The Cleveland Orchestra performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 Friday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Carl Juste/Iris Photocollective


Earlier this week, the Cleveland Orchestra announced that Holly Hudak will become managing director of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami, effective in January, 2013. Previously chief executive of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras and senior director of education and outreach for the Chicago Symphony, Hudak replaces Bruce Coppock who resigned earlier this year for health reasons.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Cleveland Orchestra shines in a resounding performance of Mahler’s mammoth Third Symphony”

  1. Posted Nov 17, 2012 at 8:01 pm by Candice Alphonse

    I am delighted at the successful performance. Taxpayers should know they subsidized it to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars this year. Let’s hope the Miami Preservation Board let’s us tear down the neighboring Herald building so we can get some first class hotel accommodations and parking adjacent to the Arsht Center.

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Sat Nov 17, 2012
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