Boston Symphony Orchestra/Levine – Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)

Layla Claire (soprano) & Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano)

Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 9 October, 2010
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

James Levine. Photograph: Michael LutchSix months after back surgery, and only a few hours after leading a matinee performance of “Das Rheingold” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, James Levine was in Boston Symphony Hall to conduct this performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. The 67-year-old music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra entered using a cane, which he hung on the railing attached to the podium, and then launched into a stunning account of the Mahler.

Although he has conducted Mahler’s epic work numerous times with many orchestras, until this week’s series of concerts he had never led the BSO in a performance. This summer he was scheduled to conduct the work in the opening program of the BSO’s summer season at Tanglewood, but recovery from his April back-surgery forced him to cancel his involvement, and Michael Tilson Thomas replaced him.

On this occasion Levine was superb at revealing the complex structure of Mahler’s Second Symphony. He masterfully commanded the huge forces at his disposal, delivering a tense, powerful and deeply-felt reading of Mahler’s teeming and fitful score. He drew magnificent playing from the BSO in an account that emphasized all the epic grandeur of Mahler’s musical conception and provided an appropriate sense of occasion.

The stand-out movements in this performance were the first and the finale. In the opening one Levine conveyed all the restless intensity of the music, shaping the whole with great command and insightful musicianship. The finale emerged with thrilling expansiveness, magnificently conveying the mood of rapture and transcendent bliss in the closing pages.

The vocal contributions were excellent. Layla Claire and Karen Cargill were both were wonderfully expressive. Claire sang with beautiful clarity; and although one wished for a more sizable voice in the heart-rending ‘Urlicht’, Cargill sang it with a lovely, consistently resonant timbre. The 125 singers of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, one of the BSO’s principal assets, sounded glorious as they sang their complimentary role with rapt intensity. Their hushed pianissimo entrance in the finale was one of the most impressive moments in the performance.

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