Saturday, April 30, 2016

BSO/Classical New England — 2016/04/30

The Orchestra is on tour, so there will be no live concerts from them until the Tanglewood season begins. In the 8:00 p.m. time slot this evening, WCRB will present a rebroadcast/stream of the concert of nearly a year ago — May 2, 2015 — with music of Schumann, Mozart, and Brahms. I wrote about it at the time, and here's a link to the station's BSO page for this rebroadcast, which also has information about future BSO rebroadcasts and Pops broadcasts/rebroadcasts until Tanglewood begins.

Friday, April 22, 2016

BSO — 2016/04/21-23

French orchestral music surrounds Russian vocal music in this week's BSO concert, the last of the current subscription season. The orchestra's performance detail page has the usual links to program notes, audio previews, performer bios, and their podcast. Here's their description of the program:
In the final concerts of the 2015-2016 season, Andris Nelsons and the BSO are joined by soprano Kristine Opolais for two Russian-language pieces: Rachmaninoff's lovely (sic) How fair this place; and the gorgeous Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. The larger part of the program is devoted to French orchestral music. Henri Dutilleux's Métaboles continues the BSO's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. Dutilleux's music, though unique, drew strongly on that of his great predecessors, Ravel and Debussy. Debussy's La Merevokes the constant dynamic change of the sea. Ravel's dreamlike La Valse is a kind of elegy for Europe's Belle Époque, which ended with the onset of World War I.
(Some emphasis added.)

The concert begins with the Dutilleux, which was fairly innocuous for a piece composed in 1964. It wasn't melodic, but it wasn't really jarringly dissonant, either. Then we get the singing, with the conductor's wife as soloist. It was okay, but not especially memorable. After intermission, we get two "warhorses" of French Impressionism. I don't care much for the style, but most people seem to like it, and I thought it was well played, as was the first half of the concert.

The Globe reviewer was pleased. The review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer is very descriptive of the music, making it nearly must reading. The reviewer is dissatisfied with some elements of the playing.

You can hear it all over WCRB on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and/or Monday, May 2, at 8:00, when it will be rebroadcast. The station's BSO page includes a link to their podcast, which includes an interview with conductor and singer. This coming Monday at 8:00 the rebroadcast will be last week's Mahler 9th, which I think is worth hearing. As noted, this is the end of the subscription season, so the page also give the schedule for the Saturdays from now until the beginning of the Tanglewood season. There will be three encore broadcasts of symphony concerts from this season, followed by three Pops concerts, then another four symphony encores.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

BSO — 2016/04/14-19

This week the BSO gives us a single work, Mahler's Symphony № 9 under the baton of Music Director Andris Nelsons. The orchestra's program detail page has links to a podcast with various features, performer bio, program notes, and audio previews. It also give the following description:
For the penultimate concerts of the BSO's 2015-2016 season, Andris Nelsons leads Mahler's Ninth Symphony, the work with which he made his debut with the orchestra in 2011, at Carnegie Hall. The composer's last completed work, the Ninth is a stunningly moving piece that has been interpreted as a meditation on death. On the boundary between the Romantic and the modern eras, it is doubtless one of the most beautiful symphonies in the literature.
Of course, whether it is "one of the most beautiful symphonies in the literature" is a matter of opinion, and you can judge for yourself.

The Globe reviewer gives a bit more detail about the conductor's first appearance with the orchestra, conducting this piece, five years ago. Overall the review is favorable. The lengthier review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer finds more fault with the performance, while giving more information about the piece. Still, for a full description you have to go to the program notes.

The BMInt reviewer had his criticism of the way the first movement was played. I'm not familiar with the piece, so I don't know if it was how it's supposed to be, but I didn't get a sense of development in that movement: there seemed to be good playing, and there were interesting musical themes, but somehow it didn't seem  to cohere. But I really liked the rest of it — especially the fourth movement — and at the end I was ready to shout, "Bravo!" but I had to wait because Maestro Nelsons held the audience in silence for what seemed an impossibly long time after the last, quiet notes faded away. Kudos to the audience for all respecting his body language as he held his arms motionless. (Aside: Tamara Smirnova, associate concertmaster; Cathy Basrak, associate principal viola; Martha Babcock, associate principal cello; and Rachel Childers, second horn, all had the night off. This put associate concertmaster Alexander Velinzon, Wesley Collins, Sato Knudsen, and fourth horn Jason Snider in the second chairs of their sections. Jason Snider leapfrogged Michael Winter because the second and fourth horns generally have lower lines and first and third, higher. What's more, associate principal horn Richard Sebring virtually never plays when the principal, James Sommerville is there, so they had to bring in freelancers for fourth horn and side horn. The side horn player has been there a lot, but the fourth was new to me.)

The orchestra will play it again this evening and Tuesday, April 19, at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time (EDT). Tickets may still be available. If you can't get there, you can listen live on the radio or web over WCRB this evening; and they will retransmit the concert at 8:00 on Monday April 25. At their BSO page, there's a link to their podcast, which includes an interview with Maestro Nelsons about the concert.

It's an interesting coincidence that it was filling in for Maestro Levine to conduct this work that led to Maestro Nelsons becoming his successor as Music Director of the BSO. Nelsons might never have been seriously considered for the position if that hadn't happened.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

BSO — 2016/04/07-12

We get two very different works this week: Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra, and Symphony №3 by Bruckner in the 1889 version. Boston Symphony principals Malcolm Lowe and Steven Ansell perform the violin and viola solos, while Music Director Andris Nelsons conducts the concert. The orchestra's performance detail page has the usual links to performer bios (click the thumbnail pics), podcast previews, audio previews and program notes. They also give the following description:
BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and principal viola Steven Ansell join Andris Nelsons and the BSO for one of Mozart's greatest concertos, the Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola. Mozart wrote this exemplar of Classical form and style during a lengthy trip to Paris. Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 was originally composed in 1872 but was subjected to a number of revisions by the composer (the present version being the "1889 version"). The symphony everywhere reveals its deep debt to Richard Wagner, to whom Bruckner dedicated the work "in deepest reverence.
(Emphasis in original.)

I was there for the Thursday concert and, to my surprise, found both pieces enjoyable. It was no surprise with the Mozart. Watching the performers did add to the enjoyment. But I was expecting the Bruckner to become tedious. A colleague once quoted a critic as saying that Bruckner's symphonies are like a walk in the woods: you see many nice things, but nothing happens. But somehow on Thursday evening it held my attention and did not seem too long. It was interesting music. As far as I could tell, both pieces were well played. I was especially impressed by the solos by James Somerville on horn and Elizabeth Rowe on flute.

The review in the Boston Globe is favorable — faintly so for the Bruckner. The reviewer spends more time describing the Mozart. So far, there is no review in the BMInt.

I definitely recommend listening on WCRB at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. It will be rebroadcast on Monday, April 18. (On the 11th the rebroadcast will be last week's Beethoven and Mahler.) Also see their BSO page for links to their podcast, "The Answered Question," including an interview with Maestro Nelsons, and other information about available BSO performances over the station.

If you're nearby, you might want to get a ticket for the performance this evening or the final one on Tuesday, the 13th.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/31-04/05

Another week: another big symphony. Last week it was Shostakovich's 8th; this week we hear Mahler's 1st; and in the next two weeks, the Bruckner No. 3 and back to Mahler for No. 9. The usual background material is linked at the BSO' program detail page, which gives the following brief overview of the concert:
BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink and the great American pianist Murray Perahia collaborate with the orchestra in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Completed in 1806, the concerto begins surprisingly with unaccompanied piano, and is cast in Beethoven's warm, relaxed mode. Mahler's Symphony No. 1, completed in his late twenties, is in a four-movement, mostly traditional form, but already hints at the expansiveness and innovation of his later symphonies.
(Emphasis added.)

There is a glowing review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer (with a couple of comments that are less enthusiastic). The Globe reviewer was less enthusiastic.

I enjoyed it all. Everybody seemed to play well. Still, on reflection, I understand the Globe reviewer's mild criticism. For all the beauty of the music, neither piece was performed in a way that was really gripping (if it should be). On the other hand, I was expecting the Mahler to be tediously long, but it wasn't, except toward the end of the last movement. It had moved along, holding my interest. Then came a point where the music had built up and seemed ready to conclude. Instead Mahler inserted a couple of minutes of quiet music which, to me, seemed to be superfluous and interrupted the progress toward the end. Overall, though, it was a pleasant evening in Symphony Hall.

The Saturday performance will be broadcast and streamed approximately live over WCRB at 8:00 p.m., Boston time, and retransmitted at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, April 11. Their BSO page has an interview with Bernard Haitink in the podcast which is linked there.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/24-26

This week's concerts start with the American premiere performances of Dixi by Giya Kancheki and continue with the too often performed Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninoff, featuring Nikolai Lugansky as piano soloist. After intermission, we'll get Shostakovich's Symphony № 8. All is under the baton of Music Director Andris Nelsons. Go to the BSO's performance detail page for links to program notes, audio previews, performer bios, and a podcast. They describe the concert (in reverse order) thus:
Continuing the BSO's survey of the Stalin-era works of Dmitri Shostakovich, Andris Nelsons leads the composer's wartime Eighth Symphony. Written only a decade earlier, Rachmaninoff's perennially popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, here played by the Russian virtuoso Nikolai Lugansky, is a tour de force of compositional craft. Georgian-born Giya Kancheli, one of the world's most esteemed living composers, remained primarily in Tbilisi until 1990 but has developed a significant worldwide reputation. He developed a personal style that draws strongly on the music of the Christian Orthodox church. Dixi(2009) is a 22-minute work for chorus and orchestra setting fragments of Latin text.
(Emphasis in original.)

This concert wasn't part of my subscription, and it's just as well, since it's Holy Week, and I wouldn't have gone. I always attend the Holy Thursday evening Mass. So I can't give any personal observations. I won't even hear much or any of it during the live broadcast since I'll be in church for the Easter Vigil, and then there will be the weekly call from my brother in Japan. I did, however, buy a ticket for the concert next Tuesday, which will include the Kancheli and Shostakovich pieces, but will drop the Rachmaninoff and open with Shosty's Suite from the incidental music to Hamlet, which they played, and I heard, in February. I'm glad to be able to hear that unfamiliar music again, rather that having to sit through the Rhapsody once more.

The Globe reviewer leans more to describing the music than the way it was performed, but he finds elements of the latter to admire and nothing to criticize. He is bemused, however, by the Kancheli piece (unsurprisingly, given how it's described in this review and the BMInt's). The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as usual, has a longer review. Like the Globe, it is not highly impressed by "Dixi," but the reviewer has praise for elements of the performance, as well as for the playing in the Rachmaninoff. He saves his warmest praise, however for the orchestra's handling of the Shostakovich, section by section, and soloist by soloist. He is however mildly critical of the conductor for somehow failing to develop an overall cohesive approach to the symphony, despite his impressive handling of various sections.

In the light of all that, I'm prepared to be unimpressed by "dixi," when I hear it next Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to some impressive playing in the Shostakovich 8th. As always, you can hear the Saturday performance live over WCRB (broadcast or webstream) at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time (with a rebroadcast/stream on April 4, also at 8). Also, check out their BSO page, with its links to their weekly podcast (including an interview with the pianist) and other features.

Overall, then, I'd say this probably isn't quite at the level of "must hear," but it seems there will be some good playing and singing. Despite my carping, the Rachmaninoff will probably be the easiest to take for many listeners (myself included, probably, although I'm developing a tolerance for Shostakovich).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/17-19

This week's BSO concert provides some interesting music. The orchestra's performance detail page — where you can also find the usual links to their podcast, performer bios, audio previews, and program notes — gives this description:
French conductor Stéphane Denève, a frequent BSO guest in recent seasons, leads this diverse program including John Williams's Violin Concerto, a soaring and heartfelt work that has been championed by Gil Shaham-and which he recorded with John Williams and the BSO. Opening the program is music by another American composer, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon, whose colorful, atmospheric tone poem Blue Cathedral is her most frequently performed orchestral work. Closing the program and featuring the grand Symphony Hall organ is the sonorous, ultimately uplifting Symphony No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saëns.
(Most emphasis added.)

The Globe review finds nothing to dislike. So far, the Boston Musical Intelligencer hasn't published a review. If they do, I'll note it.

I was there on Thursday evening and found it all okay. The first piece, "Blue Cathedral," is pretty well described in the program notes, and it was nice to be able to follow it as it unfolded. I noticed that the four horn players had the glasses with water in them, which they were to play by dipping a finger in the water and rubbing the rim. (You can try this at home.) They didn't actually play them until toward the end, as it got quiet, but even the quiet music drowned them out for a while. Eventually they were faintly audible for five or ten seconds. Other musicians then started playing the chinese bells. The whole effect was charming. The Williams violin concerto didn't remind me of his movie music. Gil Shaham seemed to do a very nice job with it, but the piece itself isn't something I feel I need to hear again (although I'll give it another hearing during the broadcast — it isn't unpleasant). In the Saint-Saëns I had never actually noticed the organ before it enters loudly in the final movement. But this time I heard it quietly accompanying some of the softer parts earlier in the piece. Listen carefully, and you may hear it too. The sound is just a bit different from the woodwinds.

The place to listen is WCRB via radio or web at 8:00 p.m. EST (Boston Time) on Saturday, March 19, with a rerun on Monday, March 28 (same time of day, same station). Their BSO page has a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," with interviews with the conductor and the violinist. There is also the schedule for the rest of the season as links to previews of the upcoming Pops and Tanglewood seasons.