The critic and artistic director Joseph Horowitz has some interesting observations on the lack of personality in James Levine’s performances. He writes:
James Levine’s high reputation as a musical interpreter has always seemed to me a frustrating mystery. Whether of Verdi or Wagner, his performances evinced no lineage. And his persona, so far as I could tell, remained a blank.
When he first arrived at the Met, he whipped the orchestra and chorus into shape and refreshed the repertoire. No doubt he was a facile musician. Even as a young man, he had evidently acquired a lot of repertoire and practical experience. His readings were typically intense, massive, and loud, sometimes to the point of brashness. In subsequent decades, he mellowed. But I never heard from Levine much evidence of emotional variety or depth. According to my experience, he had little capacity to organize a long stretch of music, or to powerfully shape a climax or pregnant phrase. He did not produce a sonic signature – as Furtwangler and Krips did; as Gergiev and Muti do. He did not possess an ear for color or texture….
Read on here.
I certainly felt much the same about Levine’s performances of symphonic repertoire. It’s refreshing to read this view from a former NY Times critic since the Times has barely permitted reasoned criticism of Levine’s conducting.