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BSO's fine treatment of Mahler starts season


No one loved saying goodbye the way Gustav Mahler did.

That must be the reason he did it so frequently and took so long to do it. After all, when the infant Mahler was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he unhesitatingly answered, "a martyr."

This was a musician to whom "Abschied" was not merely "farewell," but a way of life. In his 100-minute Symphony No. 3, for example, even the valedictory final movement's coda is long -- more than 10 minutes.

That slow, almost unbearably nostalgic finale must be the most eye-wetting a stretch of music ever written in a major key.

What distinguished the way that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Music Director David Zinman performed it last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was the manner in which restraint was used to create a compelling performance.

Mr. Zinman's Mahler is rarely sentimental and even less frequently flashy. Nevertheless, the account he and his orchestra gave of the finale accumulated momentum and intensity; it was a concentrated, glowing performance that did justice to Mahler's visionary strength and that made the lengthy coda seem urgent and noble rather than merely loud and drawn-out.

This single work comprised the entire program of the first concert of the orchestra's 1995-'96 season, and a most promising season opener it was.

The huge, 35-minute first movement had both spaciousness and rhythmic vitality. There was a sense of innocence and simplicity in the third movement and an appropriately carol-like quality in the fifth movement's bell song.

The singing of mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby caught the mystery of the Nietzsche text in the fourth movement and the vocal contributions of the women of the BSO Chorus, the Children's Chorus of Maryland and the Boys of St. David's Choir were considerable.

The playing of the orchestra was consistently fine. Principal Trombone James Olin's playing in the first movement had an affecting quality one does not usually associate with his instrument; principal trumpet Don Tison was absolutely solid in the offstage solos of the third movement; and principal flutist Emily Controulis, principal oboist Joseph Turner and concertmaster Herbert Greenberg were fine throughout.

The performance will be repeated tonight at 8:15 at Myerhoff Symphony Hall.

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