The Yale Symphony Orchestra, led by Shinik Hahm, and a stage packed with choristers rattled the ceiling of Woolsey Hall Saturday night. The YSO’s rendition of Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony followed a remarkable solo performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 by Heesun Shin ’03.
Shin’s performance was brilliant; though the concerto demanded that she carry a solo line for extremely long stretches, her technique never flagged. She displayed great versatility in juxtaposing a nocturnal, dark, rich tone in the first and third movements with a bright, jagged violence in the second and fourth. Shin made light work of the daunting cadenza serving as a bridge between the third and fourth movements, showing both her flawless technique and her formidable interpretive abilities.
The orchestral support, while generally effective, struggled at times to keep up with Shin’s virtuosity. Aside from a few brief climactic moments, most notably in the scherzo, Hahm made the orchestra into an almost neutral backdrop. Harpist Christine Kang ’04 and several wind principals fielded exposed passages with confidence, and string tone was dark and thick when needed and aggressive where appropriate, but the horns and lower brass occasionally faltered.
As might be expected, Hahm was more in his element in the second half of the concert, when the YSO was joined on an expanded stage by the Yale Glee Club, the Freshman Chorus, soprano Sujung Kim and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s gargantuan Symphony No. 2. Hahm’s musical impulses always come through more clearly when there are huge climaxes and passionate melodies involved — elements Mahler can always be counted on to deliver.
The mysterious opening fragments were surprisingly taut, conveying a satisfying rhythmic incisiveness essential if the work is to sound like anything but a loose collection of terrifyingly loud catharses. These high points were generally well executed, projecting a sense of structure onto the sprawling musical framework.
The massed string sound was quite well calculated, and a light touch from winds and percussion added to the macabre atmosphere. Eventually, though, the rhythmic clarity of the opening waned, and the softer stretches of music sometimes seemed like mere interludes between the more rousing moments.
Grove’s entrance at the start of the fourth movement marked the first appearance of the assembled vocal forces. The emergence of the voice out of a long instrumental work, a Romantic trope set into motion by Beethoven, often does not sound quite right at the juncture between instrumental and vocal sections. Such was the case with this performance as well.
Grove’s singing, however, soon made the listener forget this problematic transition. Both her tone and that of soprano Sujung Kim possessed an ideal amount of weight for this repertoire, with well-judged vibrato and beautiful clarity. The Glee Club and Freshman Chorus contributed a captivating velvety sound in softer passages and sufficient heft at more emphatic moments, and their German diction was exemplary throughout. It is always a pleasant surprise how well these groups, whom we usually see singing fight songs and old standards, adapt themselves to a quite different repertoire.
As Hahm brought the symphony to a close with a flamboyant, full-body cutoff gesture, the applause was immediate. In the end, though, it was the contributions of violinist Shin and the solo and choral voices that were the most memorable parts of the evening.