James Levine returns to Carnegie Hall on Sunday to lead the MET Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in a program of works by Verdi, Certer, Rossini, Mozart, and Beethoven. This weekend's concert happens less than five months after Maestro Levine's triumphant return to the podium after two years away due to injury. Deutsche Grammophon has just released the live recording of the May 19 concert—James Levine Live at Carnegie Hall. Here—from the album's liner notes—Harvey Sachs remembers the night.
When the Carnegie Hall stage door opened on May 19, 2013, and James Levine, appeared on the historic Hall's platform, the audience rose to greet him with wild enthusiasm. The occasion was the MET Orchestra's third Carnegie Hall concert of the 2012–2013 season, a performance that marked Maestro Levine's return to the stage after a two-year absence due to injury. He was not yet able to walk—he used a wheelchair to enter the stage and a lift, out of view behind an elegant screen, to raise him to the proper level in front of the orchestra. But from the moment of the ethereal first chords of the Prelude to Act I of Wagner's Lohengrin emerged from the orchestra's violins, flutes, and oboes, no one could doubt that Levine was in full control of himself and his forces. His gestures were as clear and unmistakable as in earlier years, and the piece's hypnotic, spiritual power, its slow buildup to full potency, could not have been greater.
If the Lohengrin prelude put listeners' minds at ease, the next piece on the program would make them forget their doubts entirely. Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto was brilliantly performed by Evgeny Kissin. Levine and his orchestra brought out with equal finesse the chiaroscuro of the first movement, the mixture of high drama and tragedy in the second, and the playfulness of the finale. As a matter of fact, the strings' opening statement in the second movement was so fiercely incisive that some audience members startled in their seats.
After the intermission, a performance of Schubert's "Great" C-Major Symphony communicated all the lyricism and vitality—not to mention the darkness and horror in the center of its second movement—that makes this work one of the glories of the repertoire.
The tremendous ovation at the concert's conclusion seemed to express a combination of exaltation over the performance itself and relief at witnessing James Levine back in charge.
Read Harvey Sachs's complete liner notes and experience the power and emotion of Maestro Levine's return by buying the album at the Carnegie Hall Shop.