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Payare Closes Montreal Season with Mahler’s Third

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
05/31/2023 -  & June 2*, 3, 2023
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
Michelle DeYoung (Mezzo-soprano)
OSM Women’s Chorus, Andrew Megill (Chorusmaster), Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont‑Royal, Andrew Gray (Chorusmaster), Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Rafael Payare (Conductor)

(© Gabriel Fournier)

Mahler’s Third is the longest of his ten symphonies and the orchestral forces required almost match those of the Eighth. Given the diversity of its musical elements—from symphony, tone poem, lieder, oratorio to folk music—some have even questioned whether it is a symphony at all.

Mahler’s aim was to reflect the evolving material world in this six‑movement work—from its rise from primordial nature (invoking the pagan god Pan) to the flowers in the meadow, animals in the forest, man’s struggle to make sense of the world (citing Nietzsche’s lines from Thus Spoke Zarathustra), the forgiveness of God (through St Peter and and the founding of Christianity) to man’s final ascent to God’s love.

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s (OSM) performance of the first movement was nothing short of sensational. The flawless, golden sound from the augmented horn section, at the opening, instantly silenced the audience and created a tension that never flagged throughout the 35‑minute movement. Music director of the OSM, Rafael Payare, maintained an assured, rhythmic beat. The double basses, positioned to stage right, played with sonorous depth and presence and benefited from better acoustics than playing from stage left. The trombones performed in perfect unison with smooth, precise intonation and their solos were immaculate.

The pulse of the second and third movements (flowers and animals respectively) flagged somewhat, but showcased delicate, nimble playing from the woodwinds, and principal trumpet Paul Merkelo (who often plays too loudly) gave the best solos I’ve heard from him—blending in seamlessly with his fellow musicians.

In the fourth movement (mankind’s struggle), Michelle DeYoung, with her dark mezzo, brought awe and wonder to Nietzsche’s text “O Mensch! Gib Acht!” And in the fifth, the OSM Women’s Chorus and Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont‑Royal sang with jaunty delight in recounting the tale of God’s forgiveness to Peter, the “all too human” disciple of Christ. (The women sang from the choir loft, and the boys from a third‑tier loge above stage right.)

The sixth and final movement (moving towards the love of God), uses the full orchestra (minus the harps) for the first time since the close of the opening movement. Again, tension returned during the quiet meditation leading up to the grand apotheosis. The movement’s highlights again included superb playing from the winds and even more impeccable turns from the trombones. The only “b‑Moll” were some uneven entries from the horns (who may have been running out of steam).

The percussion and harps maintained the highest level of musicianship throughout. And printed programs are back!

Earl Arthur Love



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