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Recapturing a revolution

(Page 2 of 2)

Over a decade ago, Ozawa had offered an impressive account of the score in Boston's Symphony Hall, which was in turned wretchedly recorded by DG records and long since deleted.

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Now - as evidenced in the Carnegie Hall performance - Ozawa seems to have retrogressed. He has normalized the radical qualities and polished away all the intentionally harsh angularities of scoring. Nowhere did one sense that Ozawa had looked to Goethe for inspiration, whereas with both Barenboim and Solti, one was convinced they knew the ''Faust'' text well, even intimately.

After more than eight years of firsthand Ozawa-watching in Boston, I was not particularly surprised at this - except that in music which he usually does with some flair, it was a jolt to find his performance so empty of content, so concerned only with getting through the score without ruffles or incident.

This attitude affected Miss von Stade in particular. Her voice is sounding thin indeed these days, and she needs a conductor who can support her on her own vocal terms. Ozawa had her resorting to forcing, and in ''D'amour l'ardente flamme'' all sense of passion realized or frustrated was lacking, thus nullifying the effect of one of the pivotal sections of the work.

Nicolai Gedda seems impervious to errant conductors, and his work was superior (but more of him anon). Thomas Stewart's Mephistopheles offered his usual force of declamation, wedded to a larger-than-life mix of suavity and blustering. The chorus sounded fine, though the diction was not up to its usual standards, and any sense of the group's characterizing its music was not asked for from the maestro. Landmark anniversary

Mr. Gedda is an artist among tenors. His recorded output has yet to be equaled, and, despite claims to the contrary, no tenor singing today has been able to perform with such success in such a variety of roles and music, from Mozart to Massenet, Berlioz to Barber, Schubert to Johann Strauss.

He demonstrated with the Boston Symphony that in the French repertoire he is peerless. Not only is the diction crystal clear, but the musicianship and taste serve to elucidate Berlioz. That said, he also fully understands that singing is no merely instrumental excercise, that the arrival at a high note involves a sense of occasion, of event, as well as a purely musical moment. He can revel in a gleaming high B, and he can astound with a soft, caressing high C sharp.

I can think of many unique performances Gedda has given in recent years, as Gerard in ''Lakme'' and Huon in Weber's ''Oberon,'' both with Eve Queler's Opera Orchestra of New York; several poetic, insightful, haunting Lenskis in Tchaikovsky's ''Eugene Onegin'' at the Met; a recital of Russian songs in Boston; and so many more.

I mention all this now because Mr. Gedda celebrated the 25th anniversary of his Met debut last December. It is an important landmark, made almost trivial when the Met accorded him only one-half of a Sunday evening recital.He shared the bill with Miss von Stade in a dour program that found them both in less than ideal voice. James Levine's piano-playing was supportive but insufficient impetus to nudge either singer out of the doldrums.

He deserved a full operatic evening. The BSO ''Damnation'' (despite the title) was a more fittingly important tribute.

On Sunday, May 8, Miss Queler will feature Mr. Gedda in the title role of Berlioz's ''Benvenuto Cellini,'' and that event, too, will properly celebrate the artistry of this half-century's most remarkable and versatile tenor.