Mahler: Symphony No.1
Bernard Haitink, conductor.
Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano. Symphony Center; Thu 1–Sat 3
Around this time last year, the kinetic Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel—then only 26—dispatched Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony with the CSO, turning hardened concertgoers giddy in the process. That Mahler 1 performance from last April still rings in the ears of those lucky to have witnessed it, but this week CSO Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink returns to the podium with a few ideas of his own.
At this point in his career, the 79-year-old Haitink’s Mahler is a well-known commodity: a supremely balanced sound with expressive risk-taking held in check. Dudamel’s raw energy makes other conductors, let alone the steadier, phlegmatic Haitink, seem anemic by comparison. Yet the Dutchman’s exacting detail, with a half-century more experience, surpasses the South American’s less refined workings. With a program that includes Ravel’s miniature Menuet Antique, Haitink will show why he’s still an authority after all these years.
Also on the bill is Peter Lieberson’s achingly beautiful seasonal highlight: the “Neruda Songs” cycle, which won the prestigious Grawemeyer award last December. These songs were written with his wife’s voice in mind, but mezzo Kelley O’Connor will sing them here for their first major live performance since Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s death in 2006. In an interview on newmusicbox.org, Lieberson said that “if Lorraine were alive today, she wouldn’t want them [all for herself].” O’Connor’s warm and flexible singing, heard in February’s Ainadamar, promises a stirring “Neruda” cycle of her own. There’s good reason Haitink’s taking this must-see program to Carnegie Hall in mid-May.