Saturday, April 19, 2014

BSO — 2014/04/17-19

"The days dwindle down to a precious few." Next week is the final week of this symphony season. But first, we have this week's program. I wasn't here on Thursday, and I won't be listening this evening because it's Holy Week, and I was/will be in church. Here's what others have to say about the program — Symphony No. 38 "Prague" by Mozart, and Symphony No. 5 by Mahler, with Charles Dutoit conducting in place of the injured Lorin Maazel. The BSO's performance detail page, with all the usual links to preview material, says:
Charles Dutoit conducts the final three weeks of the BSO's 2013-14 season. On April 17 and 19, he leads Mozart's elegant Prague Symphony, a work the composer wrote as a kind of "thank you" to the city of Prague upon its overwhelmingly positive response to his opera The Marriage of Figaro. Anchoring these concerts is Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Composed in 1901-02 following Mahler's intensive study of Bach's counterpoint, the Fifth was the composer's first completely instrumental symphony since No. 1.
Eminent Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit has graciously offered to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the orchestra's final programs, April 17-26, stepping in for Lorin Maazel who has been obliged to interrupt his conducting activities due to an accident and on the advice of his doctors until the third week of May. In addition to the BSO concerts at Symphony Hall, Maestro Dutoit will now also lead the BSO on its tour to China and Japan, May 1-10.
The Globe review was generally favorable. As is generally the case, with the Boston Musical Intelligencer, less is more. That is, less restriction on the length of the review yields more description of the music and the performance. The reviewer was mildly disappointed with the Mozart, but quite pleased with the Mahler.

You can listen live over WCRB this evening at 8:00 p.m., or to a rebroadcast/webstream on Monday, April 28 at 8:00 p.m. Their BSO page doesn't seem to have any background material for this concert, but it does have links to other items relating to the orchestra and past performances, including the on demand listening feature; and they remind us the the April 21 rebroadcast/stream is of last week's Bach, Stravinsky, Beethoven concert with François-Xavier Roth's BSO debut.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

BSO — 2014/04/10-12

This week's Boston Symphony concerts and broadcast/webstream feature the BSO debut (and North American conducting debut) of François-Xavier Roth, filling in for Daniele Gatti, who has shoulder problems. Maestro Roth will conduct the originally scheduled program, described as follows on the BSO's program detail page:
The BSO presents a diverse program featuring BSO players as oboe, horn, and violin soloists in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, one of the great works of the Baroque era. The BSO will be joined by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus for two works: Stravinsky's austerely beautiful Symphony of Psalms and Beethoven's Elegiac Song, originally for solo mixed voices and string quartet. Never previously played by the BSO, Elegiac Song will be performed here by full chorus with strings. Closing the program is Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, one of his most consistently good-natured symphonies.

Conductor Daniele Gatti-on the advice of his doctors-with deep regret cancels all his professional engagements for the next two months, including his performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, April 10-12, 2014. He will be replaced by François-Xavier Roth in his BSO debut. 
(Some emphasis supplied) See that page also for the usual links: performer info, program notes, and audio previews.

The program, unusual as it is, fits well with Maestro Roth's experience in conducting everything from baroque to contemporary music with orchestras he has founded, so even though he hadn't planned he, he was a natural to take it over unchanged.

I was there on Thursday, and I thought the Bach worked well on modern instruments. The Stravinsky piece is beyond my powers of description — I advise reading the program notes and listening with the text available if you're not already familiar with it. And I do recommend listening. It is clearly a heartfelt piece, and it seemed well performed, as far as I could tell. The Beethoven Elegiac Song is a little gem, also worth having the text available. As for the 4th Symphony, it is my least favorite among Beethoven's symphonies: while the first movement is okay and the second is gorgeous, the last two are altogether too brusque and coarse for my taste (sort of like the scherzo in the 9th). But the performance on Thursday smoothed out the last two movements enough that they actually seemed musical to me. Of course, the fast and loud ending brought the obligatory standing ovation from most of the audience.

The Boston Globe's reviewer's description of the Beethoven 4th performance suggests what there was that let me like it better than I had expected. He was non-committal about the Stravinsky, and less than thrilled with the Bach. On the other hand, the reviewer in the Boston Musical Intelligencer was happiest with the Stravinsky, liked the Elegiac Song, and found the opening and closing pieces a mixture of good and not-so-good. BTW, the review also has some good pix.

You can listen on WCRB, Classical New England, at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, this evening, and again on April 21 (thereafter streamed on demand). A schedule of their remaining BSO broadcasts/webstreams of this BSO season and links to other features (including an interview with the conductor) are on their BSO page. On Monday, April 14, the rebroadcast/stream is of last week's concert, which included the new concerto for piano and orchestra by Bernard Rands.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

BSO — 2014/04/03-08

A world premiere is being given in Symphony Hall this week, The actual premiere was on Thursday, and I was there. The Saturday broadcast (and webstream) is the "broadcast premiere." It's worth listening to, IMO. First, Robert Spano leads the orchestra in two of the three Nocturnes by Debussy. Then Jonathan Biss joins them for the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by Bernard Rands — a piece commissioned by the BSO and composed with Mr. Biss in mind. After intermission the orchestra will play Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Here's a link to the BSO's performance detail page, where you'll find the usual links to performer bios, podcasts, and program notes. Their description follows:
Robert Spano leads the orchestra's final world premiere of 2013-14, Bernard Rands's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, a BSO commission composed for the probing American pianist Jonathan Biss. Claude Debussy's Nuages and Fêtes are two contrasting movements from the impressionistic orchestral Nocturnes. Rachmaninoff wrote his colorful final work, Symphonic Dances, in 1940 for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
As noted above, I was there on Thursday, and as the new piece was being played, I had the thought that this was something that could well enter the standard repertory* — it is pleasant to listen to, even if not as melodious as the music of the baroque, classical, and romantic eras; it avoids the unpleasant dissonances and general incoherence (as I hear it) of many recent compositions. The Globe's reviewer liked it as well, and gives a fuller description of what it's like than I could. On the other hand, the Boston Musical Intelligencer's reviewer was disappointed in the Rands piece, as well as the first of the two Nocturnes, only waxing enthusiastic for the Rachmaninoff.

You can judge for yourself. The WCRB/Classical New England broadcast/webstream begins at 8:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Savings Time, with a rebroadcast/stream at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, April 14. Their BSO page has links to interviews with the composer and the conductor, as well as a video of Jonathan Biss playing Schumann in the station's studio.

On Monday, April 7, the rebroadcast will be last week's program of Vaughan Williams, Prokofiev, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

*During the intermission, I encountered Robert Kirzinger, one of the program annotators for the BSO, and expressed my opinion that the Rands work could become a standard. He replied that it might be helped in that direction by the fact that it's already scheduled to be performed in three more places, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Toronto, and a third which he couldn't call to mind at the moment. Since Maestro Spano directs the Atlanta Symphony I suggested Atlanta as the third. He said that would make sense, but he didn't say that was it. Maybe Atlanta will be a fourth.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

BSO — 2014/03/27-29

This week Sir Andrew Davis conducts the BSO in Symphony No. 6 by Vaughan Williams, Piano Concerto No. 2 by Prokofiev — with Yuja Wang as soloist — and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol to conclude the program. Go to the orchestra's performance detail page for the usual links to background info. There they also give this description of the program:
English conductor Sir Andrew Davis returns to the BSO podium with music by his great 20th-century compatriot Ralph Vaughan Williams-the dark and powerful Symphony No. 6, composed at the end of World War II. Sir Andrew and the BSO are then joined by the exciting, Beijing-born pianist Yuja Wang for Prokofiev's youthful Piano Concerto No. 2. Closing the concert is the scintillatingly orchestrated, romantic Capriccio espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
I can't offer my own comments on the performance, since it wasn't part of my subscription, and I chose to hear Trio Cleonice at the Harvard Musical Association that evening. The Globe's reviewer was generally positive, especially about the Vaughan Williams, while at the Boston Musical Intelligencer, the reviewer raved about the Prokofiev and found the Vaughan Williams less successful, particularly in the last two movements. I guess we'll need to listen and decide for ourselves about both works.

For new readers, if any, I'll note that WCRB/Classical New England broadcasts and streams the Saturday concerts live at 8:00 p.m., Eastern (Daylight) Time, and reprises them on the Monday evening nine days later, subsequently making them available for on demand listening over the web. They also provide a schedule of remaining BSO broadcasts/streams and links to background material on their own BSO page. (On Monday, March 31, the rebroadcast/stream will be of the final all-Beethoven concert, which I reported on a week ago.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

BSO — 2014/03/20-22 — Updated

(Updated to include link to the BMInt review. See second paragraph italics.)

Now we come to the wrap-up of the Beethoven mini-festival at the BSO, as they present his Leonore Overture No. 1, the Triple Concerto, and Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor." Christoph von Dohnányi conducts; Yefim Bronfman is the piano soloist, and Guy Braunstein and Alisa Weilerstein sit in on violin and cello, respectively, in the Triple Concerto. Go to the performance detail page for links to audio previews, an interview, program notes, and performer bios.

The Globe reviewer liked it. Boston Musical Intelligencer provided a thorough description. The reviewer was quite pleased.

Overall, I enjoyed the performance on Thursday. The overture was quite different from the other two, but very satisfying. The Triple Concerto is one I've thought highly of since I first heard it decades ago. Somehow, this performance was mildly disappointing. For one thing, the cellist's tone seemed harsh and forced. For another there were points where the orchestra and string soloists weren't playing as softly as Mr. Bronfman and made it difficult, if not impossible at points, to hear the piano. When I was a college freshman, my roommate had a record of the "Emperor" concerto with Van Cliburn. He'd play it every Sunday morning, but his record player would loop back to a point about one inch in from the edge after the first side had been played, so for hours I'd hear the last 3/4 of the first movement over and over — it was wonderful. Eventually, he'd turn the record over and I'd hear the second and third movements. Ever since, the piece has been one of my great favorites. I was not disappointed with the performance on Thursday. Van Cliburn's playing may have had a bit more fluidity, but I have no complaints with Bronfman. Again, the other players would have done well to adjust their dynamics to match his in a couple of the softer passages. Overall, though, I thought the performance deserved the standing ovation it got. In fact I'd have liked it if there had been another curtain call or two.

Be sure to listen over WCRB Classical New England. If you can't do so for the live broadcast/webstream on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time, the rebroadcast will be on Monday, March 31, also at 8:00. (On the 24th, it'll be the repeat of the program from March 15.) At some point it will also become available for on demand listening over the web. See the station's BSO page for interviews with Mr. Bronfman as well as access to the on demand concerts, among other information and links.

IMO this one is not to be missed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

BSO — 2014/03/15-18, Reviews; H&H — 2014/03/14-16

H&H — 2014/03/14-16. On Sunday afternoon, I trekked in to Boston to hear the Handel and Haydn Society's "Bach and Byrd" concert in Jordan Hall. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives a very thorough description and review, and the Globe gives another favorable review. I thought it was very good from beginning to end, with the conclusion of "Singet dem Herrn" raising the mood to sheer joy — a great feeling to head home on. The program note told the story that Mozart attended a performance of "Singet dem Herrn" in Leipzig, and a few bars into the rousing first sections he sat up and said, "What is this?" After it was finished he said, "Now this is something one can learn from."

BSO — 2014/03/15-18, Reviews. I heard the second of the BSO's three Beethoven programs on Tuesday, March 18. The Saturday performance had been reviewed favorably in the Globe and even more favorably in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. I can't add much to those reviews, but it was a very enjoyable evening at Symphony Hall. Hearing the Leonore Overture No.2 so soon after the No. 3 made it easier to notice how different it is from the later version, even while it uses much of the same material. There were points in the piano concerto fast movements where I was reminded of the 4th Symphony (which is not a compliment to the composer). The music seemed overly gruff and insufficiently melodic. But the slow movements made them worthwhile, and Bronfman played everything well. He is not given to excessive movement: no swaying, bobbing of his head, or raising of hands high off the keyboard to show the audience he's just finished an important bit. He just makes music as it's supposed to sound. As with the earlier program, the musical forces were well balanced, so that no section drowned out the others.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

BSO — 2014/03/13-14; 15-18

There are two separate concert programs to cover in this post. The BSO is performing all five of Beethoven's piano concertos and all three of his "Leonore" overtures, plus the triple concerto in two weeks. Here's their overall description:

Over the course of three programs, the orchestra presents all five Beethoven piano concertos with Yefim Bronfman as soloist, along with the composer's Triple Concerto and all three Leonore overtures under the direction of Christoph von Dohnányi.
These concerts trace the evolution of Beethoven as a pianist-composer over 15 years, from the early period influenced by Mozart and Haydn to the middle, so-called "heroic" period, culminating in the Emperor Concerto in 1809. For the final program of the festival Thursday, March 20-Saturday, March 22, Mr. Bronfman will be joined by violinist  Guy Braunstein (BSO debut) and cellist  Alisa Weilerstein in Beethoven's Triple Concerto.
Program 1
Leonore Overture No. 3
Piano Concerto No. 1
Piano Concerto No. 2
TICKETS: MAR 13 8PMTICKETS: MAR 14 8PM(March 14 is an UnderScore Friday Evening)
Program 2
Leonore Overture No. 2
Piano Concerto No. 3
Piano Concerto No. 4
Program 3
Leonore Overture No. 1
Triple Concerto
Piano Concerto No. 5, EmperorTICKETS: MAR 20 8PMTICKETS: MAR 21 1:30PMTICKETS: MAR 22 8PM

As indicated above, March 13 and 14 heard the first of the programs: Leonore Overture No. 3 and Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist and Christoph von Dohnányi at the podium. I was at the Thursday performance. The performance detail page for that program doesn't tell us any more about the concert, but it does have the usual links to program notes, audio preview material, and performer bios (click on their pictures).

My reaction was that it was a well played performance. It didn't seem to me that the performers did anything especially unusual with the music. (I've heard other pianists seem to "swing" a couple of phrases, and Mr. Bronfman didn't.) But they played it straightforwardly, with only one or two seemingly missed notes in the piano. The sound was transparent, meaning that it seemed to me that no instruments seemed to drown others out. This may be partly because of the small number of orchestra members needed in the concertos, and no doubt partly the doing of the conductor. The clarinet solo in the first concerto was particularly impressive, and it was good that the horns played softly when appropriate (often they have seemed to overpower the rest of the winds). There's an enthusiastic review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. In the (shorter) Boston Globe review, there is less opinion, with a heavier proportion of factual description, but the opinions expressed are favorable.

Because this program isn't being given on a Saturday, it won't be broadcast just now. It has been recorded for later broadcast (date so far unannounced). I'll try to alert you when it's coming up. I think it's definitely worth hearing.

This week's broadcast and webstream is the program scheduled for today and next Tuesday, the Leonore Overture No. 2 and Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4. Again, check the performance detail page for links to notes, bios, and audio previews.

As usual, the Saturday concert will be broadcast and streamed virtually live over WCRB, Classical New England, which also has the schedule for the rest of the season and various links on its BSO page. I'm sure this concert will be worth hearing live this evening at 8:00 p.m., in the rebroadcast/stream on March 24 at 8:00 p.m., or on demand when it becomes available. I'll attend on Tuesday, and give my impression and links to reviews some time after that.

This Monday, March 17, the rebroadcast/stream will be of the March 6 "Salome."