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BYU Philharmonic adds life, spice to Mahler's Fifth


Gustav Mahler was a meticulous composer. His detailed scores demand a lot from the players, and his works are a challenge for any orchestra and conductor — especially so if it's a university orchestra tackling them. But that didn't seem to be the case when the BYU Philharmonic under Kory Katseanes took on the Fifth Symphony Saturday evening.

The young orchestra that consists principally of undergraduates played the work luminously. Their performance was polished and refined, and they brought a professionalism to their playing that was very impressive. The numerous solos for the brass and woodwinds were played with conviction and confidence, as well as with finely crafted phrasings and expressions. This was a stellar performance that was well worth the drive to Provo.

Katseanes has done wonders with the orchestra program since coming to BYU. And while the members of the Philharmonic come and go, there has been a consistency in the quality of the playing and a cohesiveness to the sound that belies that. This is an orchestra of wonderfully talented and dedicated musicians.

Katseanes elicited a forceful reading of the Fifth that captured the subtleties in the score; he was also sensitive to all the minute details in tempos, expressions and dynamics. It was articulate and remarkably nuanced and compelling.

It was obvious right from the opening measures of the first movement funeral march that Katseanes had a solid grip on the work. He brought depth and a keen perceptiveness to his account.

The fourth movement Adagietto, for strings and harp — the best known of the five movements in this symphony — is one of the most beautiful pieces Mahler ever penned. And the orchestra did full justice to it. The string sound was shimmering and the players captured the otherworldly atmosphere with their gorgeously lyrical playing. It was filled with feeling and soft tenderness that brought the music to life.