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Pioneer Valley Symphony performs Saturday in Greenfield

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY
    Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

  • PHOTO COURTES OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Valley Symphony.

    PHOTO COURTES OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY
    Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Valley Symphony.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY
    Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Valley Symphony.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY
    Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Valley Symphony.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY
    Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
  • PHOTO COURTES OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Valley Symphony.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Valley Symphony.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY<br/>Paul Phillips conducts the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

The curtain is about to close on Pioneer Valley Symphony’s star-studded season, PVS at the Movies.

Thankfully, the symphony’s final visit to movie music is one where fiery crashes, bloody chases, or floor-rocking explosions have neither pride nor place.

There is room for a subwoofer, however. The occasion is Gustav Mahler’s glorious and oft-delightful Fourth Symphony, whose third movement ends with a radiant, heavenly display that enlists bass drum, cymbals, triangle and trumpets going full force, and whose final movement’s ultimate note is a sustained low E played by the basses.

Pause for a Mahler trivia question: In what movies did a bit of Mahler’s Fourth play a part? Do you know all four movie titles? Rest assured that even PVS director Paul Phillips, who this month wraps up his 19th year with the orchestra, had never heard of “Water Drops on Burning Rocks” until he conducted an Internet search, but he was familiar with “Another Woman” and “El Norte.”

As for the final title, “Woman in Chains,” best not to get too personal. Instead, let’s direct our attention to the antidote for such abhorrent behavior, the final movement of Mahler’s Fourth. Based on the song “Das himmlische Leben,” which Mahler composed eight years before completing the rest of the symphony, its child’s view of Paradise calls for a soprano or high mezzo who, in accordance with Mahler’s wishes, can bring to the music a childlike expression without ever stooping to parody a child.

Those who audition multiple recordings of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 — ArkivMusic lists 133 recordings by at least 67 conductors currently in print, with others either out of print, unissued on CD or DVD, or only available abroad — will soon discover how many world-class singers fall short of Mahler’s wishes. Either they sound too mature, too arch, or out of their vocal comfort range.

Few sound as ideal as Kathleen Battle (with the Vienna Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel).

Soprano field day

Phillips is confident that in Diana McVey he has found the right woman for the song.

“She’s a wonderful and delightful soprano who, in recent years, has sung with us more than anyone else,” he said. “She doesn’t have a big whopper of a voice, but it has a beautiful, ravishing silvery timbre that can absolutely sound like a child’s. She’s also a very smart singer, always impeccably prepared, and will absolutely find the way to sing it convincingly.”

It’s high time that PVS performed the Fourth. While they’ve played Mahler’s First and Fifth symphonies under Phillips’ baton, it last visited the Fourth 38 years ago. A symphony that starts out with sleigh bells deserves to be performed far more often in snow-covered New England. Phillips first conducted the symphony 15 years ago, with his wife and fellow Brown University instructor Kathryne Jennings as soloist.

Taking advantage of McVey’s presence, Phillips has also programmed Mozart’s Vespers, “Vesperae solennes de confessore.” Used most famously in the movie “Philadelphia,” it includes the gorgeous soprano solo “Laudate Dominum.” It’s no slight either to the other soloists or to the PVS Chorus to say that the radiant soprano solo at the heart of the Vespers is the reason they are performed so frequently.

Recordings by Barbara Bonney, Kathleen Battle, Kiri te Kanawa, and, more recently, Carolyn Sampson deserve pride of place on your audition list.

The evening begins with Mozart’s Overture to “Le Nozze di Figaro,” which has kicked off concert programs and opera productions far more often than it has been excerpted in movies. Don’t expect either lower “authentic pitch” or a zippy “historically informed” performance.

Authentic pitch requires original woodwinds, which are not easy for a regional orchestra to obtain. As for the modern tendency to perform Mozart faster and faster, Phillips is not a believer.

“I think fast Mozart should have a brilliance to it, and should sparkle,” he said. “But I don’t take excessively fast tempi. If it feels like someone is trying to make a point by seeing how fast something can possibly go, it doesn’t interest me. Period instrument performance practice has widened the possibilities, but it’s still guesswork to a large degree. No one can guarantee that what they’re doing is what would have been happening stylistically in those days. Nor do I think that Mozart, whose music is so rich in emotion, would have zipped through all his pieces and ignored their emotional content. I certainly won’t be doing that.”

PVS performs Saturday at 7:30 p.m.,at Greenfield High School. Tickets cost $20; $17 for seniors/students; $6 for children. To reserve, visit www.pvso.org/tickets or call 773-3664.

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