Earlier this month, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra resumed performances before a live audience, welcoming a small, socially distanced crowd back to Music Hall for Das Lied von der Erde. A recording of the concert streamed on the company’s YouTube channel several weeks later, and it was hard to ignore the feeling of renewal bound up in the musicians meeting their public for the first time in over a year. It did the soul good to hear actual applause, however reduced, coming from the other side of the footlights. The recording itself showed once again the CSO’s quick mastery of the digital landscape, offering fine perspectives of the conductor, soloists and orchestral members, giving a full picture of the performance’s creation and flow, interspersed with wide shots of the stately but intimate auditorium the company calls home.

Matthias Pintscher
© Cincinnati Symphony

Mahler’s enduring symphonic song cycle also speaks to renewal and the permanence of nature, even as it takes the impermanence of life as its main subject. Perhaps that’s why it has become such a frequent programming choice in these Covid times. This is the third assumption I’ve reviewed since last fall, across three different countries, and the repetition has not left me even remotely tired of it. There is always something new to discover in this complex music, and each interpretation brings a different element into focus. Although this performance employed Glen Cortese’s somewhat prosaic orchestral reduction – if we’re going that route, I’d have preferred Schoenberg and Riehn – and conductor Matthias Pintscher didn’t always pull the piece together cohesively, I appreciated the fine coloristic detail he brought to individual voices within the orchestra, so crucial in Mahler. Pintscher is a composer/conductor, and he sometimes cannot help over-intellectualizing the big picture. But when he highlights a particular isolated element, like the marvelous interplay of oboe and clarinet in Der Einsame im Herbst, the result is transcendent.

The soloists were variable. Sean Panikkar pushed his essentially lyric instrument to the brink in the three tenors songs, privileging heft and volume over legato line. His throaty, declamatory style put too fine a point on the subtext of this outwardly cheery music. Michelle DeYoung is an old hand at Mahler, but pitch issues persisted throughout the performance. Her large, high-lying mezzo can be thrilling when heard in house, but she has a tendency to sound blowsy when recorded; that was evident here. Still, she pulled her resources together where it really mattered and offered a hypnotic Der Abschied to close the evening.

This performance was reviewed from the CSO video stream