The Israel Philharmonic and its Music Director for Life, Zubin Mehta, began this US tour at Carnegie Hall with a work they have performed many times during their fifty-year-plus association: Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. On one famous occasion, in 1988, they presented this monumental masterpiece at the foot of the legendary fortress of Masada to commemorate Israel’s fortieth anniversary. This time the concert was given to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic, which supports and broadens the IPO’s continuing relationship with North America.
There has been much improvement in the technical skills of the IPO since Masada. But occasional imprecision, intonation problems, jagged entrances and rather colorless timbres remain concerning. The violins produced a rather attenuated sound at high dynamic levels, the brass seemed rather dry and generated only modest volume during fortissimo passages, and percussion was sometimes too weak to empower dramatic climaxes. However, the IPO did play with whole-hearted enthusiasm, but in the concentration on precision seems to have sacrificed the aesthetic character of the music. Consequently, powerful moments flew by with little effect, and lyrical passages glided with minimal expressivity.
Mehta made little effort to draw out much of the power of the Symphony, apparently satisfied that his orchestra’s long acquaintance with the music would serve well enough. His straightforward approach was rather modest in scope, toning down or hurrying through massive outbursts and smoothing over harsh grotesqueries, particularly in the outer movements. Some passages did impress, however, such as the forceful and shattering snap that ended an excruciatingly long ritardando into the first movement’s recapitulation; the graceful theme of the second movement had a lilting quality; and the choral peroration of the Finale was effective.
Missing was flexible and nuanced phrasing and a spacious flow that would have enabled climaxes to blossom forth naturally. Mehta’s detached manner, combined with the orchestra’s response, failed to do the Symphony justice, although the vocal soloists acquitted themselves well and the chorus was splendid, from its hushed entrance to the magnificent conclusion. Judging from the diffident reaction, many listeners had hoped for a bigger ‘high’ than this performance generated.