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SCRUTINY | Mahler’s Third A Truly Grand Finale For Gimeno And The Toronto Symphony Orchestra

By Arthur Kaptainis on June 14, 2024

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and Toronto Children’s Chorus (Photo: Allan Cabral)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and Toronto Children’s Chorus (Photo: Allan Cabral)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Mahler: Symphony No. 3. Gerhild Romberger, mezzo-soprano. Members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (Jean-Sébastien Vallée, director). Toronto Children’s Choir (Zimfira Poloz, director). Gustavo Gimeno, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall, June 13, 2024. Repeats June 15 at 8 p.m.; tickets here.

Never fails might be putting the case too strongly, but Mahler’s Third Symphony — famously the longest in the standard repertoire — is well suited to special occasions. It served the Toronto Symphony Orchestra admirably on Thursday as a classical-season sendoff in the second of three concerts in Roy Thomson Hall.

On the podium, of course, was TSO music director Gustavo Gimeno, always an arms-up and clear-headed supervisor, but on this occasion also a man with a Mahlerian message to communicate. The half-hour first movement was a mighty drama, vivid in detail, gripping as a whole. No section was found wanting, not a moment sagged. “Summer marches in” is the inscription Mahler left on his manuscript. And how. No wonder there was a burst of applause as Gimeno stepped down for a breather.

Maestro Gustavo Gimeno (Photo: Allan Cabral)
Gustavo Gimeno (Photo: Allan Cabral)

The minuet rhythm of the second movement (“What the flowers in the meadow tell me”) eased the mood but here also were unsettling elements, exactly captured. A great highlight of scherzando third movement (in which woodland fauna are ostensibly the focus) was the offstage posthorn solo, lyrically turned by Andrew McCandless on a cornet. This pillar of the TSO brass section is making his last appearances as principal trumpet in these concerts. I miss him already.

Solos in the Third are legion. Trombone Gordon Wolfe was authoritative or melancholy in the first movement according to need. Gerhild Romberger, a German-born mezzo-soprano making her TSO debut, sang the soulful “O Mensch” text of the fourth movement with a lucid species of radiance. Far from suppressed, instruments here were treated as strands of a fabric. There were fine violin solos and remarkable glissandi from the oboe.

Contralto Gerhild Romberger with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Allan Cabral)
Contralto Gerhild Romberger with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Allan Cabral)

The sopranos and altos of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (Jean-Sébastien Vallée, director) and the Toronto Children’s Choir (Zimfira Poloz, director) made joyful sounds — “what the angels tell me” — in the penultimate movement. Somebody decided to add a sit-down choreography to the final bars, a charming effect.

Then came the 22-minute finale, a heartfelt paean to love. Some listeners might prefer a darker European sound in this music, but the integrity of the string playing was unassailable. Gimeno brought all the elements to a life-affirming climax.

The Third is a major undertaking. (Next season’s Mahler is the more modest Fourth.) There were 104 musicians on stage and 141 choristers in the loft. I timed the performance at 97 minutes, not including a rapturous six-minute ovation from an audience that showed no signs of restlessness.

One subjective measure of the success of the evening was that it did not seem at all long. You can expect a similar experience in the repeat performance Saturday night.

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Arthur Kaptainis
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