The Music Box
Bernstein, Mahler, and the Glee Club
Leonard Bernstein put on quite a show yesterday afternoon in Symphony Hall. He also conducted an early Mozart Symphony-No. 25, in G minor-but that was something of an appetizer, and if it, was played a bit monotonously, with very little range of volume, nobody remembered by the end of the concert. This was because, in the meantime, Bernstein, the Boston Symphony, the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society, a soprano, and an alto had joined in a performance of Mahler's Second Symphony, a work which engages its performers in varying combinations for seventy five minutes. By the end of this time, the Mozart seemed to have been played a very long time ago.
Let it be known that the effect of the Mahler was immense. It is impossible to say whether this was a good or bad performance of the Symphony, as it has not been played often enough to provide a basis of comparison. But it was certainly an interesting, a spectacular, a vivid performance. The music supposedly concerns in the first movement, a man's death, in the second and third, various reflections about his life, in the fourth, a search for the primal light, and in the fifth, the day of judgment. You would never guess this, however, unless you were a program note reader, something which tradition condemns a reviewer to be. If you just listened, you would hear a great deal of very brilliant, very exciting climaxes. You would hear great quantities of brasses playing louder than you had thought possible. You would hear a number of light, charming folk-tunes serving as a contrast to the assorted volume zeniths. And after one hour and fifteen minutes of this sort of thing, you would be likely to feel as exhausted as Leonard Bernstein obviously felt, and as enthusiastic about his conducting as was the audience. Bernstein looks like the music sounds. He cajoles, he dances, he whips himself into frenzies of excitement. And he brings the house down.
The combined Glee Glub and Choral Society were called upon only during the last movement of the Symphony, which is set to an ode called "Resurrection" by a man called Klopstock. The ode concerns God's splendor, which according to the concert notes is Mahler's substitution for God's judgment. At any rate, this reviewer, for one, does not know whether the tenors were properly balanced with the sopranos or if the basses were in good voice, but he asserts that the tone of the choral groups was always pleasant and controlled, even when they were called upon to join in one of the most overwhelming fortissimos ever survived by mortals.
The program will be repeated tonight and will mark Bernstein's farewell for the season after his four weeks as guest conductor of the Symphony.