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S & H International Concert Review

Mahler: Adagio from Symphony No. 10 in F-sharp Major (1910), Wagner: Parsifal, Act II (1877-81), Thomas Moser, Tenor (Parsifal), Michelle DeYoung, Mezzo-Soprano (Kundry), Eike Wilm Schulte, Baritone (Klingsor), Women of the Westminster Symphonic Choir, Joseph Flummerfelt, Music Director, The Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, Conductor, Carnegie Hall, New York City, February 12, 2004 (BH)

Thomas Moser, Tenor (Parsifal)
Michelle DeYoung, Mezzo-Soprano (Kundry)
Eike Wilm Schulte, Baritone (Klingsor)

Malia Bendi Merad, Soprano
Marcy Stonikas, Soprano
Elizabeth de Shong, Mezzo-Soprano



In the quiet, haunting viola line that opens the Mahler, the Cleveland players negotiated the composerís subtle path with vibrato-less purity, demonstrating why they are pretty much unsurpassed Ė equaled but rarely overtaken. The movement is one of Mahlerís most divine creations, with achingly yearning melodic lines, huge intervallic leaps of well over an octave, and a baleful climax with an immense nine-note chord, hovering as if one is staring death in the face. Boulez, with his typical clarity and understatement, didnít overemphasize but gently coaxed the orchestra to breathe Mahlerís seemingly abrupt transitions in and out, allowing the progressions to speak for themselves. No soft edges, no apologies Ė just jewel-like incidents gently melding into each other, with each new passage following cleanly from the next. Like Boulezís unaffected Mahler on recordings, his no-nonsense approach is not to every taste. But to those for whom Mahlerís idiom is already excessive, this approach can seem like finding a hidden door opening onto a fresh-smelling meadow filled with wildflowers.

With the Parsifal fragment clocking in at just under an hour, Boulez offered a slightly swifter Act II than some, and the impeccable orchestra seemed to have no end of glorious tone to offer. Again, Boulezís steadfast refusal to swoon or exaggerate the score doesnít appeal to everyone, but I find his direct manner offers its own kind of rapture, and of course Wagnerís architecture can hold up to many different approaches. The word "bloated" sometimes floats by in discussions of the composer and of this opera, but not here. Those who have heard Boulezís Bruckner Eighth Symphony will recognize the approach: transcendence achieved without advertising or highlighting.

Thomas Moser made a luminous Parsifal, confident all evening and immersed in the role. Michelle DeYoung glowed as Kundry and the supple quality of her voice consistently delighted, as did her intelligent musicianship, such as in her unabashed fun with her brief passages of laughter. Eike Wilm Schulte took a few minutes to project fully, but after a few minutes his stern Klingsor emerged and was as engaging as the work of his two partners. The women of the Westminster Choir delighted as the Maidens, and those with solo turns sounded excellent even in such starry company.

As far as the playing of the incomparable Cleveland Orchestra, their work here, as in the previous evening, could be a model of how individual artists work together to achieve a common goal. Special mention to Richard King, principal horn, and the glowing group of trombones that pretty much outdid themselves. And as for concertmaster William Preucil and the first violins, some of the more stratospheric demands in the Mahler made the tips of their left-hand fingers appear to touch their noses, and it is very difficult to keep these passages in tune, making the consistent discipline all the more impressive. Boulez will be conducting the entire Wagner at Bayreuth this summer, but (with all due respect to the festivalís distinguished personnel) the instrumental element will be hard-pressed to equal what the Clevelanders presented last night.

To be completely candid, I confess that I enjoyed the first of the two evenings even more, with its slightly manic playing and unusual repertoire. The Dalbavie is something Iíd like to hear again, and I canít get the Bartók out of my mind. For the Wagner, the orchestra seemed slightly reigned in, probably to avoid overpowering the singers, and frankly, Cleveland is not a group I want to hear playing under any constraints. But now we really are splitting hairs.

Bruce Hodges




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