Daniel Lewis and the USC Symphony have long enjoyed a reputation for courage and endurance. They regularly devote themselves to the most taxing works of the literature. But seldom have they tackled such a gigantic task as Mahler's Third Symphony. They played it before a large audience in the Wiltern Theatre Thursday night, and rarely has Mahler been better served in these parts.
It is easy enough to deprecate Mahler's Third. It is inordinately long--close to two hours. It repeats ideas endlessly; much of the music could easily be exchanged with that of other Mahler symphonies; the idiom is pure Mahler with little variation from previous compositions; long stretches are unrelievedly banal.
Yet, when the Third is played with the insight and devotion of Lewis' team, it can hold an audience in the closest rapport. For all its flaws, the Third becomes a valid and moving statement on the human condition. The whole is greater than its parts.
Lewis avoided all flamboyance. The climaxes were mighty but never overblown. The delicate woodwind combinations were flawlessly matched. There was power in the dramatic statements but they never got out of hand. The strings sang lusciously with no forcing. The heavily populated brass section remained consistently mellow and a pleasure to the ear.