April 12, 2012
By Scott Cantrell
Classical Music Critic
The Dallas Morning News
If you weren’t at the Meyerson Symphony Center on Tuesday night, you missed one of the most electrifying performances I can remember.
Had you been brought in blindfolded, with no knowledge of who was playing the Mahler Ninth Symphony, you might have assumed some famous orchestra, led by a maestro of uncanny command and sensitivity.
The conductor on this occasion certainly met those standards: Paul Phillips, music director of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra. And Southern Methodist University’s student orchestra played like an orchestra of international import.
You could tell that most of the violinists weren’t playing major-league instruments, yet they produced white-hot blazes of sound as well as the most delicate wisps. Given the prominence of the second-violin parts, it was good to have them separated on the right of the stage.
The horns, led with astonishing breath control by Josh Cote, thrilled. Trumpets and trombones unleashed fearsome, but finely controlled, blasts. One after another, wind and string solos were delivered with expressive sophistication.
The intensity of the climaxes, even the violins’ last-movement entrance, was less Viennese than Russian. This was Mahler more as you might hear it in St. Petersburg. That was just fine.
Rare’s the university orchestra that would attempt this 70-minute symphony, so demanding of intense concentration and so elaborately detailed. But Phillips made it a compelling demonstration of the Asian concept of feng shui: the management of energy through space.
Climaxes were built seamlessly over considerable stretches. Stark shifts of ferocity and tenderness were as impeccably managed as expressive lingerings at major transitions.
Phillips took a relatively relaxed tempo in the folksy second-movement ländler , but the famous 1938 Vienna recording by Mahler’s protégé Bruno Walter is a good deal slower. If Phillips’ main tempo in the finale seemed a little mobile for the “very slow and held back” marking, it was pretty close to Walter’s pace.
It’s a pity the audience applauded after each movement. But at the end, after the music had vanished in mere wisps of reminiscence, there was the longest, breath-held silence I can recall after a concert.
The roaring standing ovation that followed could not have been more deserved. Dare we hope a recording may be issued?