Saturday, November 18, 2017

BSO — 2017/11/18

This week we hear BeethovenPiano Concerto No. 3 — and MahlerSymphony No. 1 — with Andris Nelsons on the podium and Martin Helmchen at the piano. The orchestra's performance detail page has the usual links to podcasts, program notes, audio previews, and performer bios. (Click on the thumbnail photos.) It also gives this description of the program:
The young, Berlin-born pianist Martin Helmchen, who made his BSO debut in 2011 at Tanglewood with Schumann's Piano Concerto and his subscription series debut in 2015 with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor, is now featured in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, which pays homage to Mozart and Haydn while also exhibiting Beethoven's own intense individuality. Written nearly a century later, the first of Mahler's nine symphonies employs folk-music references and a conventional four-movement form that have their foundations in Haydn's time. Its expanded scope and instrumentation are evidence of the genre's 19th-century transformation as well as Mahler's own expansion of the form.
On the advice of his doctors, conductor Christoph von Dohnányi has regrettably been forced to withdraw from the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts in Boston November 16-18 as he continues to heal and regain his strength following a fall he suffered earlier this year. BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons will replace Maestro von Dohnányi for the program, which will include Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring Martin Helmchen, and Mahler's First Symphony.
Originally there were to be three works in addition to the Beethoven, but when Maestro von Dohnȧnyi had to cancel his appearance, they decided to perform the Mahler instead. It is more usual for the orchestra to perform the originally scheduled works under such circumstances. The Globe reviewer points out that the recent tour probably made it more difficult for Maestro Nelsons to prepare and rehearse the other works than if that had been the plan all along.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives us a rave review, not only praising the performances themselves, but finding depths of meaning in them. I was in the audience on Thursday — in the second balcony where I could see much of the keyboard in the Beethoven. I was amazed at how Mr. Helmchen's fingers flew over the keyboard, giving a powerful sound, while at times playing so softly that he was barely audible where I sat. Even with Symphony Hall's vaunted acoustics, I suspect that some in the rear of the auditorium must have had to take it on faith that he was playing the notes at those points. It was definitely a gripping performance. As for the Mahler — sometimes when listening to a work of that length I find myself thinking that it has gone on long enough, but this performance held my interest from beginning to end. It was never dull, and while I didn't see the layers of meaning the BMInt reviewer did, I found it all very powerful music, even the slow and quiet parts.

The reviewer in the Globe seems to have experienced Helmchen and Beethoven similarly, but was less pleased with what she heard, apparently preferring a more refined approach to the music. And in the Mahler she heard a masterful performance, but rather than dramatic meanings she saw it as Andris Nelsons finding "his happy place."

In short, I think this was an exceptional concert, well worth hearing. And hear it you can over WCRB on air and on the internet this evening at 8:00 Boston Time (EST). If you have to miss all or part of it this evening, there will be the make-up rebroadcast on Monday, November 27, also at 8:00. The WCRB page also has links to information about their other programs, including a podcast with an interview with Martin Helmchen and an preview of next summer's Tanglewood season.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

BSO/Classical New England — 2017/11/11

Today WCRB rebroadcasts the Tanglewood concert of July 28 this past summer. Here's the description from the BSO program detail page:
Charles Dutoit is joined by pianist Yefim Bronfman for Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2, one of the composer's most barnstorming, free-spirited works. The BSO opens the program with the Overture to Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus. Mr. Dutoit also leads the orchestra in Dvorak's New World Symphony.
(Some emphasis added.)

Check out the program detail page for the usual links as well. I don't see reviews in the Boston Globe or the Boston Musical Intelligencer (They don't cover all Tanglewood concerts.) so you don't get any pointers from the critics. You'll probably like it, though. The Brahms and Dvořák pieces are favorites, and the Beethoven overture, while not one of his most famous pieces, is typical Beethoven.

As always, you can hear it all over WCRB, beginning at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time (now Eastern Standard Time).

Saturday, November 4, 2017

BSO/Classical New England — 2017/11/04

The Boston Symphony is on tour in Japan this week, and WCRB has chosen the concert of July 23 at Tanglewood to rebroadcast at the usual time this evening. The orchestra's program detail page offers — in addition to the customary links to background information — the following synopsis:
On Sunday, July 23, BSO Assistant Conductor Ken-David Masur is joined by Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky for Prokofiev's sparkling Piano Concerto No. 3. Mr. Masur opens the afternoon program with Aaron Jay Kernis's airy and moving Musica Celestis ("Heavenly Music"), written by the Grawemeyer Award-winning composer in 2000. Closing the concert is Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2, Little Russian.
(Some emphasis added.)

More information about each piece (program notes, brief audio previews) is available at the program detail page.

Of course, when I posted about this concert beforehand, no reviews existed. But afterwards, this very descriptive, and favorable, one appeared in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. There does not seem to have been a Boston Globe review of the concert, but the BMInt one will give a very good preview, pointing out several things to look for. My recollection of the Kernis curtain raiser is that it was not hard to take.

So I recommend tuning in to WCRB at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, this evening. Also, check out their website for lots of other features about their programming.

Friday, October 27, 2017

BSO — 2017/10/28

This week's Boston Symphony concert is a single work, "The Damnation of Faust" by Hector Berlioz conducted by Charles Dutoit. I was at the Friday matinee and found it very enjoyable — excellent music very well performed by soloists, orchestra, and chorus. All the usual links to background information — performer bios (click on the photos), program notes, audio preview, podcast — are available at the orchestra's performance detail page, along with the following blurb:
Charles Dutoit leads the BSO and an outstanding cast in Hector Berlioz's magnificent The Damnation of Faust. Goethe's Faust resonated strongly in the Romantic era, particularly the title character's attempt to transcend human limitations via science and magic at the cost of promising his soul to Mephistopheles. The very human tragic love story, centered on Faust and Marguerite, looms large in Berlioz's setting, which was the first major work to grapple with Goethe's far-reaching text. The Damnation of Fausthas held a special place in the BSO's repertoire since Koussevitzky led the orchestra's first complete performances in 1934, and it was recorded by the BSO under both Charles Munch (twice!) and Seiji Ozawa.
Both reviews were quite favorable, giving more information about the piece than the performance, but the Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer both liked what they heard. I found the music always descriptive of what was happening, and I was especially moved by the final section, in which Marguerite is welcomed to heaven.

There were surtitles (which didn't seem to translate every line of the text, but at least gave the gist of it). I'm not sure how well it will work without being able to see them. Here's a link to the text, alternately in English and French, with some introductory material. The layout is not ideal, but if you sort through it, it's all there. At the least, you'll probably want to follow the synopsis given in the program notes.

As always, you can hear it on WCRB at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, and I highly recommend it. If you can't catch it live, it will be rebroadcast at 8:00 on Monday, November 6. (Meanwhile, on October 30, the rebroadcast will be of last week's Beethoven and Grieg  incidental music.) The WCRB website has information about future BSO concert broadcasts and other programming on the station.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

BSO — 2017/10/21

This week, it's "incidental music" — music written to go with plays — at the BSO. It's not part of my subscription so I haven't heard it and can't comment on the performance. Also, as of this writing, no review has appeared in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. But the orchestra's performance detail page gives — in addition to all the usual links to further information — the following description:
Bill Barclay and his creative team return to join BSO Associate Conductor Ken-David Masur for an imaginative treatment of Grieg's music for Ibsen's fantastical folk-play Peer Gynt. Rough and rustic, negligent and occasionally criminal, Peer Gynt undergoes many adventures-among them kidnapping his erstwhile fiancée, encountering the Mountain King and begetting a son by the king's daughter, traveling in North Africa, and sidestepping the Devil. Opening the program is Beethoven's incidental music for Goethe's tragedy Egmont, featuring soprano and narrator along with the orchestra, and best-known for its overture, which is frequently heard on its own. The play tells of the Flemish Count Egmont's refusal to relinquish his ideal of freedom in his struggle against the tyrannical Duke of Alba.
(Some emphasis added.)

The Globe review is mixed. Of course, you won't be able to see the action on stage, but you can hear the music, and whatever spoken words are part of the show.

Listen over WCRB tonight at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time (with a rebroadcast scheduled on Monday, October 30)., and see how well the music does on its own. Some of it has been in the standard repertory since it was composed. Check out the rest of the station's offerings through the links on their home page. On Monday, October 23 at 8:00 you'll have your chance to listen again to last week's concert of Ligeti, Dvořák, and Schumann.

Happy Listening!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

BSO — 2017/10/14

The Boston Symphony Orchestra's program detail page synopsizes this week's program as follows:
Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno and American violinist Hilary Hahn join forces for Dvořák's Violin Concerto, composed in 1879 for the great Joseph Joachim. At times lyrical, Dvořák's concerto also contains passages of great energy based on music from his Czech heritage, especially in the delightful, dance-like finale. Also based on music from Central Europe, György Ligeti's early "Romanian Concerto" is a Bartók influenced orchestral work from early in the great Hungarian composer's career. Robert Schumann's First Symphony is bursting with energy, power, and optimism.
(Emphasis added.)

The reviews in both the Boston Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer were quite favorable, both overall, and particularly with regard to Hilary Hahn (with the Intelligencer gushing). I was there on Thursday and found it all enjoyable to listen to, although there was nothing that I'd consider spectacular, just good playing. The third horn in the Ligeti was played offstage through a door that was ajar. Mike Winter seemed slightly embarrassed to come onstage for a bow when other soloists were asked to stand, and he stayed to the side, just inside the door.

You can hear it all this evening over WCRB radio or internet at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time. Their homepage has links to additional information about their programs, including future BSO concerts and other special programs. It seems that they are also repeating the concerts on Monday evenings a week later, so last week's will be rerun on October 16, and tonight's, on October 23. The repeats are also at 8:00 p.m.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

BSO — 2017/10/07

This evening, October 7, at 8:00 p.m., WCRB will broadcast and stream the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert live. Music Director Andris Nelsons will be on the podium. The concert opens with Moler, by Arlene Sierra, a fairly short piece receiving its first Boston performances this week. Then Gil Shaham will be the solo violinist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The concert will conclude with Symphony № 2 by Rachmaninoff. The orchestra's performance detail page has links to audio previews of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff pieces (regrettably not the Sierra) and the written program notes for all three. I recommend reading at least the notes for "Moler" to get some idea of what to expect. On the other hand, there's something to be said for just letting it have no expectations to live up to. Then on a second hearing, you can have the assistance of the notes to help sort it out.

The program notes also link a podcast and performer bios and tell us

One of several American composers figuring in this season's programs, Florida-born Arlene Sierra, a former Tanglewood Fellow, wrote Moler (2012) on commission for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The eightminute work is a harmonically colorful and rhythmically energetic evocation of the Spanish meaning of the title, "to grind." Also on the program are Tchaikovsky's beloved Violin Concerto featuring acclaimed American violinist Gil Shaham, and Rachmaninoff's lush Symphony No. 2, composed between the Second and Third piano concertos. With its lyrical excursions reminiscent of the arching, lovely melodies in his piano concertos and songs, it has long been the most popular of the composer's three symphonies.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer raves about Gil Shaham's performance of the Tchaikovsky. The reviewer's description of his exuberance matches what I saw at Tanglewood last summer, when he was violinist in the Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello. The other two works on the program get a brief paragraph each, with no real complaints. The Globe review finds fault with some details of Shaham's performance of the Tchaikovsky, but is generally quite favorable.

This concert was not part of my subscriptions, so I can't add my own impressions to those of the reviewers, but based on the reviews, I'm looking forward to hearing it until my brother calls from Tokyo. So I recommend giving it a hearing, especially for the violin concerto; and if the curtain raiser isn't to your liking, hang in there for what's to come.