DeYoung’s artistry lifts CSO’s middling Mahler

Fri Mar 02, 2012 at 1:21 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung performed Thursday night in Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Jonathan Nott has been tapped as substitute maestro for the second and final week of the ailing Pierre Boulez’s concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in a program that opened Thursday night.

The nexus between Mahler and the Second Viennese School was the fulcrum here with Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto partnered with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Surprisingly for its Mahler lineage, the CSO hasn’t ventured into this epic song cycle, based on Chinese poetry, in 11 years since Daniel Barenboim’s performance and recording with Waltraud Meier and Siegfried Jerusalem.

Nott, principal conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, is best known for his superb recorded series of Ligeti’s complete orchestral works with the Berlin Philharmonic. Replacing Boulez is not an enviable task yet even so Thursday’s performance produced rather middling Mahler by CSO standards.

Nott, who founded a Mahler festival in Baden-Baden, was an efficient and solid hand in Mahler’s sprawling cycle and seemed to have a sense of the music’s ebb and flow. But for the most part the performance failed to rise to the level of depth and eloquence that these remarkable six song settings on the transcendence of life really demand. Balances were often off between the vocal soloists and orchestra, and the performance lacked an interpretive locus and textural clarity, let alone the kind of scrupulous detailing Boulez would have provided.

Performing without a score, Stuart Skelton brought a characterful style and hearty swagger to his songs. Yet Skelton’s tenor too often sounded underpowered and at least one size too small for these settings for large orchestra. Nott didn’t help, frequently swamping the singer in tuttis and making him force his voice to be heard.

Fortunately, Michelle DeYoung was the other soloist and the American mezzo provided the finest moments Thursday night. She brought a refined elegiac expression to Der Einsame in Herbst and vernal nostalgia to Von der Schönheit, though Nott’s souped-up fortissimos in the fast middle section didn’t do her any favors either.

DeYoung rose to the challenge of Der Abschied in supreme style, singing quite beautifully and conveying the sense of the transcendence of existence and the passing of earthly concerns. The final long, lingering farewell, was pure-toned and most affecting, mercifully unbroken by premature applause.  Nott’s accompanment was also at its best in the closing setting, more dynamically alert and sensitive to his soloist. Throughout the CSO played masterfully with especially rustic and evocative contributions by the wind principals.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto is a fascinating hybrid, a work that imbibes the gestures of the virtuosic keyboard concerto within the strict—though not hidebound–serial tenets of his 12-tone system.

With his blend of steel-fingered technique and intellectual rigor, Pierre-Laurent Aimard is the ideal protagonist for this music. The French pianist brought out the fractured 19th-century Romantic echoes while refusing to inflate the scale or smooth out the surface of the herky-jerky structure. Nott was a most sympathetic partner, drawing finely concentrated and powerful playing from the orchestra.

The program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.; 312-294-3000.

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Comment