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Mozart, Mahler
: Michelle DeYoung (soprano), Simon O’Neill (tenor), James Levine (conductor), The Met Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 23.1.2011 (BH)

Mozart: Serenade No. 9 in D Major, K. 320, “Posthorn” (1779)

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (1908-1909)


Leading the distinguished Met Orchestra in Mozart’s “Posthorn” Serenade at Carnegie Hall, James Levine gave the audience an unscheduled chuckle as he conducted from his specially designed swiveling chair. In the presto finale—taken seemingly impossibly fast, more like prestissimo—he swung back and forth, now right, now left, and at one point whirled around completely, facing the audience with a beatific grin, as if to say, “Hi, folks! This is great, isn’t it!”

Of course, it was great, and the audience laughter only highlighted the giddiness of the moment: Levine and his superb musicians at play, merrily splashing around in Mozart’s masterful pond. The Serenade is substantial—seven movements, 45 minutes—and has many delights in addition to the final romp. Two Minuettos offer high-spirited dance rhythms, and in the middle Rondeau: Allegro ma non troppo, with its charming wind writing, Levine briefly put down his stick and let the group run on its own for a few bars—no doubt one of the reasons for the (completely understandable) burst of spontaneous applause as the movement ended.

Levine and the ensemble have done Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde a number of times over the years, most recently with Anne Sofie von Otter and Ben Heppner in 2005. The extravagant writing shows off the complete range of what the Met players can achieve, from the sumptuous, horn-infused first movement, “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” (“The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow”) to the groaning low brass and gongs in the interlude of “Der Abschied” (“The Farewell”). Indeed, the excellent tenor, Simon O’Neill, was sometimes swallowed up in the sheer ocean of sound, especially in the first movement. Yet one could still admire his roseate tone, meticulous intonation, and friskiness in “Von der Jugend” (“Of Youth”) and “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (“The Springtime Drunkard”).

Michelle DeYoung commanded an impressive dynamic range, spinning especially ravishing pianissimos, such as the end of “Der Einsame im Herbst” (“The Lonely One in Autumn”), and in the slow reflections of “Der Abschied”. The latter, one of Mahler’s most sublime creations, takes up almost half the length of the cycle, and DeYoung’s concentration held the audience spellbound, even with Levine choosing a very slow tempo. And in the final luminous measures, during the words “eternally…eternally,” I don’t ever recall hearing the celesta’s crystalline accents so gently coaxed out—sparkling, hanging in the air.

Bruce Hodges


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