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MET Orchestra Perform the Cycles of Mahler

Esa-Pekka Salonen

A glorious season of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall finished this month with three superb concerts featuring the excellent MET Orchestra under the inspired direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen, with each program devoted in part to a Gustav Mahler song cycle. The first performance, presented on the evening of Wednesday, May 31st, opened with selections from Mahler's sensuous Des Knaben Wunderhorn sung by two outstanding artists, renowned mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the fine tenor Matthew Polenzani. Both singers unexpectedly sounded slightly underpowered but the orchestral playing was crystalline. The second half of the program was more impressive with probably the most extraordinary account I have heard in the concert hall of the same composer's frequently performed, magnificent Symphony No. 1, the apotheosis of all three programs.

The next concert—given on the afternoon of Saturday, June 3rd—merited comparable esteem, opening with a sterling reading of Robert Schumann's beautiful Symphony No. 3, the "Rhenish", a work surprisingly not much heard on New York stages lately. The latter half of the program surpassed the first with a stunning version of Mahler's sublime Das Lied von der Erde, showcasing two thrilling singers—the lovely mezzo-soprano, Karen Cargill, and the dynamic tenor, Stuart Skelton—both exquisitely accompanied by the ensemble in another pellucid realization.

The final program—which took place on the evening of the following Tuesday—also satisfied, beginning with an elegant account of Mahler's seldom performed, posthumously published, but gorgeous Blumine. Celebrated virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff then took the stage for a rewarding performance of the wonderful Violin Concerto of Jean Sibelius, a composer with whom the conductor has had a privileged relationship. Vigorous applause earned the audience an enjoyable encore from the soloist: the challenging Presto from the Solo Violin Sonata, BB 124, of Béla Bartók.

The second half of the concert started with the moving Mahler Kindertotenlieder, appealingly sung by the popular mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, who nonetheless seemed slightly underpowered. The event closed strongly with a compelling rendition of the idiosyncratic, mysterious Sibelius Symphony No. 7. One looks forward enormously to hearing these distinguished musicians again next season.

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