Conductor: James Levine
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 - Maurizio Pollini
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
As if enjoying the fabulous MET Orchestra with Verdi's Macbeth in their home on Saturday afternoon had not been enough, I had the good fortune to hear them again at Carnegie Hall yesterday afternoon, this time conducted by their dearly beloved music director of over 40 years, James Levine, and accompanied by another long-time major figure of classical music in Maurizio Pollini. The program was an attractive pairing of Mozartian elegance, with the popular piano concerto No 21 of the 19th century Viennese master, and Mahlerian angst, with the monumental symphony No 9 of the 20th century Viennese master. So it was with mightily high expectations that I joined the capacity crowd for the opening concert of my Carnegie Hall season.
Mozart's piano concerto No 21 has been one of his biggest hits for the longest time not only because of its irresistible mix of perfection and accessibility, but also because, for better or worse, the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan used the dreamy Andante as its main theme. Any opportunity to hear it is always welcome in my book, and the musicians on the stage yesterday only made that perspective even more alluring than usual. So when the expected sweeping magic did not happen, the disappointment was all the more crushing. Truth be told, this was not a complete disaster, and there were some wonderful moments that impeccably rose above the fray, but all too often the music did not seem to flawlessly gel apparently due to a lack of coordination between pianist and orchestra, with the latter unquestionably winning on all fronts. I guess there was a lesson here to be learned about the pitfalls of mightily high expectations.
Mahler's Symphony No 9 has a lot to say over the course of its 90 minutes, and it employs many means to say it as well. With death omnipresent throughout the journey, Mahler is still looking everywhere for answers, relentlessly dealing with big philosophical ideas and intense human emotions. Now solidly in charge of the action, James Levine gave the music plenty of time and space to breathe without losing any of its driving force... all the way to the famed Adagio, which sounded borderline over-stretched, but hey, what's a little self-indulgence when you're dwelling into this achingly beautiful movement? The violins stunningly soared in all their glory, and even the increasingly fidgety woman next to me did not manage to break the spell. Speaking of instruments, praise must be also bestowed upon the brass section that did such a stupendous job throughout the entire performance. Mightily high expectations were met this time.