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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL
The Cleveland Orchestra in New York (3): Malin Hartelius (soprano); Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano); Westminster Symphonic Choir; Franz Welser-Möst (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York City, 18.10.2007 (BH)
Mahler: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection”
Out on the sidewalk afterward, a professional violinist sitting in the audience confided that this evening had made her slightly sad, since she could detect a bit of fear among the players—that is, fear of making a mistake. That might explain the brilliantly played but ultimately a bit too contained Mahler Resurrection Symphony that brought this great orchestra’s Carnegie stay to a close.
The volatile opening movement had every detail in place, with some ferocious attacks by the basses and alertness constantly on display. Franz Welser-Möst adopted moderate tempi overall, not too fast but keeping things swirling along, and the final descending scale had the inevitability of a door slammed shut. After a break of perhaps two minutes, the andante boasted tightly controlled pizzicatos, and more gorgeous work from the harps, reminding me of their color in Pintscher’s score the previous night. The scherzo was perhaps sunnier and less sinister, with less craziness and barbarism than in some hands. As the last low notes died away, Bernarda Fink’s lustrous voice came into view, like a slow-moving luxury car being glimpsed in a rear view mirror. Her account of the Urlicht, carefully, heartbreakingly delivered, reminded me of the gray and orange clouds at dusk, and was one of the highlights of the evening.
At first the finale was appropriately apocalyptic, but then seemed to settle in with manners that were just a bit too polite, like a guest barging in only to be told to sit with folded hands. High contrasts were immaculately gauged, adrenaline flowed in the climaxes, ushered in by the snare drum working overtime, but the lasting image was one of great refinement, and I’m not sure Mahler is always as effective without a little unbridled chaos. Nevertheless, when soprano Malin Hartelius joined Fink, the two sounded like the aural equivalent of intertwined vines, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir sneaked into the picture with a beautiful hush. In the final, forceful, blissful pages, one could hardly quibble with the expertly terraced movement from plateau to lofty plateau.
At this point in time, Mahler’s masterpiece is almost bullet-proof in its potentially cathartic effects, and with the caliber of musicianship these days, it seems that players everywhere are more comfortable with its hazards: thick textures alternating with moments of great transparency, solos mixed in with charging climaxes, and the compelling use of unusual instrumental combinations that now seem so “right.” The Cleveland Orchestra is no exception, its ranks filled with younger players who can seemingly do anything. I hope Welser-Möst will perhaps trust them more with the score, since they can certainly play the hell out of it. It may be splitting hairs in a performance of this caliber, but I longed for a little more “actual hell” to put the heavenly moments in higher relief.