Saturday, October 23, 2010

BSO — 2010/10/21-26; Fidelio

This week's BSO program includes Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and, after intermission, Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony. Here's what the BSO website says about it.

"Opening the program is Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, which the American composer wrote in 1931 when he was just 21 years old and a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. His first work for full orchestra, the overture was premiered by The Philadelphia Orchestra and did much to advance Barber's reputation. Barber wrote the piece in tribute to Richard Sheridan's play of the same name.

Beethoven wrote his only violin concerto in 1806 for the great Viennese violinist, Franz Clement, who was music director of Vienna's Theater an der Wien. Written around the same time as the composer's Fifth Symphony, the Violin Concerto demonstrates Beethoven's relaxed, lyrical side, in contrast with his “heroic” style. The concerto requires a virtuosity rooted not in fireworks and bravado but in songful expression.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, like the two symphonies that surround it in number, is one of the Russian composer's most frequently performed pieces due to its immediately gripping and viscerally exciting nature. Based around a single theme that starts the first movement and appears in each of the four, the symphony has a clear sense of continuity and structure. Tchaikovsky's piece is a journey of thematic evolution as a single idea is put through an elaborate series of transformations from a forbidding opening to a wildly triumphant finale."

I had a ticket for the Thursday performance, but then a meeting of the Task Force Against Discrimination was scheduled for that evening, so I exchanged the ticket for Friday afternoon. I thought the conductor conducted well, and the others played well. So I recommend listening on WCRB. The pre-concert features beginning at 7:00 often include interesting interviews, as well as recordings of music by one or more of the evening's composers — music other than what is about to be played in the concert.

The Boston Globe reviewer gave the Thursday performance faint praise.

Friday evening I attended a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. It was well played and sung, but the director had the idea of making the oppressive force that was persecuting Florestan, the Inquisition. So Pizzaro was dressed like a cardinal, as were several supers and the First Prisoner. That was bad enough, but for the final scene, Fernando was a bishop, and the main action of the scene was the burning of Don Pizzaro (which isn't in the scenario) while everybody is praising Leonore. And there was other foolishness, like having Marzelline take off her outer garments and pose for a portrait in her underwear in the opening scene. But when it was possible to focus on the music and the actual story, it was very enjoyable. Here's an article from the Globe that explains what the director was thinking of.

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