The reviews are in! And they’re pretty darn glowing. Well, mostly.
Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe praised Michael Tilson Thomas for his ability to draw different emotional contexts out of the various movements. About us, he wrote:
Mahler’s finale is one of the most memorable in his oeuvre, full of hair-raising music depicting the end of days, but also containing some of his most spellbindingly quiet passages, as in the hushed first entrances of the enormous chorus. The TFC here sounded magnificent, as it did singing at full throttle.
Lloyd Schwartz of the Boston Phoenix spent most of his digital ink talking about the intricacies of the performance, with more (well-deserved) praise for Stephanie Blythe’s voice than for the chorus itself.
Clarence Fanto of Berkshire Living was more effusive, saying it was no surprise that MTT’s interpretation would be a “magnificent, insightful, thoughtful and viscerally thrilling performance.”
Superlatives abound whenever John Oliver’s chorus performs; the singers’ hushed entrance in the final movement (mysterious, very slow and a triple-pianissimo as Mahler instructed) was as delicate yet well-articulated as imaginable. When Tilson Thomas urged them on to sing triple-forte for the final lines of Mahler’s text (“Die shall I in order to live…”), their exclamation of joyous redemption lifted the rafters skyward.
The performance was so tightly focused and unblemished technically — even the off-stage brasses and the distant marching band — that an instant CD or MP3 download could be released with no touchups required. Some of us would gladly pay for the privilege of owning a memento of this memorable event.
Meanwhile, the more austere Berkshire Eagle was very harshly critical, calling the performance a “bumpy ride” and “idiosyncratic.” The writer acknowledge MTT’s style as closer to Bernstein’s, but derided him for lacking Bernstein’s “structural coherence and molded sound.” It sounds like Andrew Pincus was lashing out for the absence of James Levine, blaming the performance on “a visiting conductor” and comparing MTT’s “swirling, stabbing demands” unfavorably to “Levine’s more measured, though no less visceral, approach.” Time to get over it, people! We may not see James “J.D. Drew” Levine again. About us, he acknowledged:
From its hushed first entry – one of the most stunning moments in all music – the Tanglewood Festival Chorus rose to almighty thunder in the concluding ode.
And because Tanglewood is regarded as a New York activity as much as a Boston one (you should’ve heard the concert-goer who told me afterwards that the performance was “auw’asum“), the New York Times weighed in too. Anthony Tommasini wrote a lot about the absence of James Levine, but he also delved into the performance. He praised MTT for bringing “lucid textures and structural coherence” to the otherwise disparate movements of the work. About us, he gave a passing of-course-they-were-good nod of appreciation:
[MTT] drew brilliant playing from the orchestra, magisterial singing from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and inspired performances from the two vocal soloists […] In the “Resurrection” poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, with Mahler’s added verses, the always impressive Tanglewood Festival Chorus (directed by John Oliver) sang with robust sound and sensitivity.
A New York Times blog post by Daniel Wakin included snippets of an interview with MTT about how he chose to interpret the piece, but the interesting thing there are the comments by the musical literati. Some called MTT’s Mahler “the best there is” and others condemned him for making changes to the composer’s notes or called his conducting style superficial and showy.
Quite a roundup. My thoughts on the performance will follow in the next post.