Gustav Mahler believed a symphony could encompass the entire world. But at the end of the Philadelphia Orchestra's season grand finale program of the composer's Symphony No. 3 on Thursday at the Kimmel Center, you wonder whether even he knew how close he came.
The piece is framed by two symphonic pillars — the wildly fragmented first movement representing the randomness of nature's life force, and the sweeping, lyrical final movement representing ultimate resolution though love. Throughout, the symphony has a hugely diverse cast of musical characters represented by individual solos that arise from all regions of chorus and orchestra.
Listeners can feel adrift because no one character dominates, with the possible exception of the mezzo-soprano soloist. Karen Cargill had the part in this performance, singing the text to Nietzsche's "Midnight Song" with gravity that never turned ponderous, and then joining the American Boychoir and women of the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir to sing about merry angelic visions. Mahler gave equal time to less heavenly matters: One friend of mine whose music collection didn't extended beyond Star Wars, Sousa, and Switched-On Classics discovered that the Symphony No. 3 touched all those bases.