Everyone has been curious about the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, who replaced James Levine in the Mahler Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. He's already joined the list of possible future BSO music directors. The reviews, however, diverged. James Oestreich, in the Times, despite some praise for the string playing, found the performance blatant and imbalanced; the Globe's Jeremy Eichler, despite reservations about some details, thought it a triumph. Any final decision seems farther away than ever, though it's hard not to play the Dating Game.
The Celebrity Series of Boston brought the fine Metropolitan Opera tenor Matthew Polenzani in for his first recital here, and he chose not the usual program of arias and songs but one of the large-scale masterpieces of the non-operatic song repertoire. Die schöne Müllerin ("The Beautiful Miller's Daughter") is the first of Schubert's two great death-haunted song cycles, almost a play or a novel in song, a setting of 20 of Wilhelm Müller's 24 poems of passion and loss. Polenzani is an honest singer, with a refined yet gleaming tone. Some rough passages soon worked themselves out, and he projected his touching characterization with his whole body, leaning back cockily or lunging forward, his arms indicating anger or longing or despair.
His vocal characterization depended mainly on dynamics, from the gentlest pianissimos to impassioned outbursts, exciting at high speeds yet at some cost to tonal warmth. The most moving interpreters of this cycle, like the sublime '40s Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz, also shade and color each phrase, each word — infinite nuance that raises the simple narrative to the level of poetic tragedy. Polenzani's tone color remained basically unvaried, except for those dramatic changes in volume, and so the cycle was just a touching story. Accompanist Julius Drake worked his way toward a lighter, more subtle touch, both supporting and reinforcing everything the singer wanted to do. The Jordan Hall audience brought them back for numerous bows and a single encore, Schubert's glowing "Im Abendroth" ("At Twilight").
, Evgeny Kissin, Jordan Hall, Boston Symphony Orchestra, More