In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Peter Mattei; James Levine & The MET Orchestra

NEW YORK CITY
Carnegie Hall
12/22/13

Any New York classical critic who had already drawn up a "Best Vocal Events of 2013" list before December 22 would have had to revise it after that afternoon's performance of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen on the Carnegie mainstage by James Levine, Peter Mattei and the MET orchestra. The second in this season's series of MET Orchestra concerts led by Levine from his new specially constructed podium, it showed not only the audience's affection for the currently wheelchair-bound maestro but his ability to control a huge orchestra in a piece alternating bombast with delicacy. And that after preparing and leading the new Falstaff production!

Mahler — among Levine's predecessors as a Met principal conductor and a frequent podium presence at Carnegie during his New York years — in fact made up the whole bill. Joined for the early song cycle by Mattei — still bearded from his recent Met Onegins — Levine led an inspiring performance, the finest rendition I recall hereabouts since Kurt Masur and Håkan Hagegård's collaboration at the New York Philharmonic twenty years ago. Mattei simply embodied the impassioned protagonist, trying to relieve in art and contemplation his broken–heartedness. His gestures, facial expressions and self–lacerating yet quiet sounding of words evoked the Swedish baritone's superb performance as Shishkov in From the House of the Dead five seasons ago. Without any audible trickery or adjustments he encompassed the complete tonal and dynamic rage the cycle demands, from gossamer attacks on soaring line endings to the storms churned up in "Ich hab'ein glühend Messer."  Mattei's seamless legato phrasing should be a lesson to young singers wise enough to listen.

The Mahler Seventh Symphony may not be the Eighth — no choruses or vocal soloists appear — but remains a huge undertaking. The sprawling five-movement work is something of a Levine specialty; his 1982 recording with the Chicago Symphony remains among the more competitive items in his Mahler discography. Even a critic who finds this very digressive symphony less than compelling as a totality left impressed with the energy and volume produced. Yet Levine's reading seemed more like a (pardonable) exhibition of his exhortative powers rather than a probing investigation of the panoply of "night worlds" Mahler's ever-changing structure seeks to evoke. Concertmaster David Chan brought beautiful gradations of tone to his frequent solo lines and the guitar and mandolin figures emerged delicately, while the drums — key punctuation throughout the work — duly went to town. The brass section fared consistently less well, with baubles marking all five movements. The enthusiastic crowd loved everything. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10