Carnegie Hall: December 10, 2001–The Juilliard Orchestra and Choral Union under the direction of Jahja Ling presented an absolutely first-class performance of Gustav Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection.” A major test for any orchestra, only the slightest corporate timidity from the otherwise excellent winds and a touch of rhythmic unsteadiness in the strings in the second movement betrayed the fact that this was anything other than a solidly professional ensemble. Indeed, the “missed note” quotient of this performance, consisting almost entirely of a couple of minor brass clams from both the onstage and offstage aggregates, was substantially less than that heard in most performances by first tier ensembles, and it will be very interesting to see of Chailly and the Concertgebouw manage any better when they perform the piece later in the season.
Of course, missed notes aren’t the whole picture, and the Juilliard orchestra further distinguished itself with richly sonorous brass, marvelous timpani and percussion, and a really warm and full string sound. Conductor Ling’s interpretation also commanded genuine stature from the outset. He had the cellos and basses really growling in their opening gestures, let the band really play out at the movement’s eruptive central climax, and generally showed great sensitivity to Mahler’s idiom. In particular, he had the chorus and orchestra beautifully balanced and integrated in the finale and achieved an aptly luminous transparency of texture in the orchestral interludes between the initial choral stanzas (not a given, as the orchestration includes the full brass section–with 10 horns–all playing piano and it can easily sound heavy).
The Juilliard Choral Union made a fine impression at its a capella entrance in the finale, and soloists Melissa Kaye Shippen (soprano) and Makiko Narume (mezzo soprano) gave a good account of themselves. Miss Narume in particular contributed a very moving account of the fourth movement (“Urlicht”). In short, this was as fine a performance as anyone has a right to expect, and the fact that was delivered by a school orchestra, however talented its constituents, is astonishing. We can only imagine how Mahler himself would have felt to see his music played with such commanding artistry by student musicians. His time has come indeed.–David Hurwitz