Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano)
Women of the Westminster Symphonic Choir
The American Boychoir
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 8 May, 2009
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Boulez may not move much on the podium, but the climaxes he built in the first movement were earth-shattering, summits of gradually accumulated tension. Since he himself is a composer, he respects Mahler’s indications in the score and adheres to them, not slavishly but with only slight interpretative touches and phrasings added. As a conductor Boulez understands that Mahler needs neither exaggeration nor distortion, as unfortunately one so often hears, and is played to best effect when the composer is allowed to speak for himself through a sympathetic interpreter who is capable of executing both the large structures and the many expressive details of the music. Boulez succeeded admirably on both accounts.
The first movement was well-paced and tightly structured, never losing the underpinnings of the march (with fine solos by trombonist Joachim Elser), while the second movement was quite wistful, with very delicate and precise playing from the violins, and expressive solos from leader Wolf-Dieter Batzdorf throughout. The posthorn solo (presumably Christian Batzdorf, the first trumpet, but nobody was credited in the program) in the third movement was taken slightly faster than one usually hears it, but with a perfect sense of tranquility and ennui.
Michelle DeYoung was the soloist, as she had been in the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony the evening before, effortlessly floating even the softest notes with sincere expression over an exquisitely hushed background in the fourth movement, and producing a round, rich sound in the fifth. The women of the Westminster Chorus acquitted themselves very ably, while the 40 or so boys were barely heard.
As a musician Boulez is often described as cerebral, but especially during the finale his emotional engagement was palpable. Unfortunately he ignored Mahler’s instructions to have this movement follow the fifth without interruption and took time to seat the choirs, which ruined the magical transition from the last “Bimm” of the women to the opening pianissimo of the strings. From then on, however, he proceeded to spin out Mahler’s long line seamlessly, perfectly pacing it in dynamics and tension, reaching a glorious D major at the end, made even more spectacular with antiphonal timpani. This was a memorable and moving performance of Mahler’s Third.