Saturday, January 29, 2011

BSO — 2011/01/207-02/01; Met — 01/29

From the BSO website:

In these concerts led by the great German conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, BSO principal players Elizabeth Rowe, flute, and John Ferrillo, oboe, step to the front of the orchestra to perform György Ligeti’s 1972 Double Concerto. Making her BSO subscription series debut, the young German violinist Arabella Steinbacher is soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4. Antonín Dvořák wrote his powerful yet elegant Symphony No. 7 for London’s Royal Philharmonic Society. The success of this 1885 work helped greatly to establish the composer’s international fame. 

The Globe reviewer liked the Ligeti and thought the rest was okay.

I was in the back row of the second balcony, and unfortunately I was listening more to the sound than the music. It seems more balanced than my regular subscription seat, where brass and timpani predominate; but you still can't hear the reeds through the full orchestra playing forte.

It was an enjoyable concert. I had taken the precaution of listening to the BSO "Media Player" (click on the "Launch" button under "Ligeti, Mozart and Dvořák" on the page I've linked) and had a foretaste of the Ligeti sound, and knowing what I was in for definitely made it easier to enjoy. I definitely recommend listening to it if you aren't sure about the Ligeti. You can skip the second part, about the Dvořák.

Anyway, Ligeti has an interesting sound and technique. As the Globe reviewer notes, there are microtones, so the sound is often sort of a wash, rather than crisp. And the music is generally quiet — so much so that it never drowned out the faint ringing I have had in my left ear for the past several years. I thought the violinist in the Mozart was good, and I liked her cadenzas. The Dvořák was an enjoyable performance of something I'm slightly familiar with.

As I write, the Met is doing "Tosca." Puccini is not my favorite opera composer. The tenor's voice seemed tight in "Recondita Armonia," but the soprano did well in "Vissi d'Arte."

Friday, January 21, 2011

BSO — 2011/01/20-25; Met — 01/22 (Revised)

The BSO website says this about the program that will be played on Saturday this week.

 The illustrious American conductor Lorin Maazel brings a program anchored by Alexander Scriabin’s lushly exotic Poem of Ecstasy, which features kaleidoscopic orchestral effects including a major role for the Symphony Hall organ. Equally exotic but on a smaller scale is a 1917 Stravinsky work, The Song of the Nightingale. This symphonic poem of music from his opera The Nightingale is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale with a Chinese theme. Tchaikovsky’s light, familiar Suite No. 3 for orchestra begins these concerts.

There's a lot more available if you click Launch Media Center on the page where I found the description. One minor tidbit is that when Maestro Maazel made his debut with the BSO fifty years ago, the Stravinsky and Scriabin pieces were on one of the two programs he gave. As always, you can hear the concert by listening to WCRB over the web at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, January 22. And as always there is an introductory show beginning an hour earlier.

I haven't found a review of the Thursday performance in print or on line.* I liked the Tchaikovsky best. It was all easy to take, and the last part was a big theme and variations, with the final variation being a polonaise. I really like the polonaise rhythm, and as any who know "Eugene Onegin" can attest, Tchaikovsky knows how to write a polonaise for orchestra. I very nearly gave a standing ovation. After intermission was okay. The Stravinsky was interesting, but I was ready for it to be over a few minutes before Stravinsky was. And the Scriabin was big and loud. Both pieces had some nifty solo playing.

*The Boston Globe finally got around to publishing a review in today's (Saturday) paper. Faint praise, except for the soloists, whom he names. — Note added January 22.

On Saturday afternoon, the Met is giving Verdi's "Rigoletto" at 1:00. WHRB will stream it. When I became interested in opera, the first complete opera recording I had was a Christmas present of "Rigoletto" with Leonard Warren in the title role and Toscanini conducting. If I'm not mistaken Erna Berger was Gilda, and the other principals were Nan Merriman and Italo Tajo. Anyway, I had been quite unfamiliar with that opera, but it proved quite satisfying. I've come to prefer some other Verdi operas, such as "Trovatore," "Don Carlo," and "Forza del Destiono," for example. But "Rigoletto" has fine music well matched to the tragic story.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

BSO — 2011/01/13-18; Met — 01/15

The BSO website gives us the following information about the concert which I'll be attending tonight and which you can listen to over WCRB on Saturday.

Two Preludes—
Feuilles mortes (from Book 2) and 
Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (from Book 1) 
performed in their original piano versions 
and in orchestrations by Colin Matthews 
Paris: A Nocturne (The Song of a Great City)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K.467
Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

Guest Artists:
Sir Mark Elder, conductor
Lars Vogt, piano

About the Music 
The English conductor Sir Mark Elder returns to the BSO podium for an eclectic program centering on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 to be played by the outstanding German pianist Lars Vogt. These concerts begin with a selection of the contemporary English composer Colin Matthews’s orchestrations of Claude Debussy’s piano Preludes. The English composer Frederick Delius was known for his picturesque, illustrative scores; his 1901 Paris, A Nocturne is subtitled “Song of a Great City.” Strauss’s rollicking tone poem Till Eulenspiegel employs pioneering orchestral effects in telling the wild story of a mischievous rogue.

Additional information is available through the BSO website.

Debussy and Delius aren't my favorite composers by a long shot, but Delius is usually listenable. The Mozart should make it worth going out on a winter's evening, but I may not stick around for the Strauss, which I consider undeserving of the frequency with whic it is performed. Okay, we've heard it enough; let's move on. In fact, most of Richard Strauss's music belongs in that category, IMO.

My recent opera experience reminds me that I should probably note the availability of the live Saturday afternoon (Eastern Time) broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera performances. This week it's "La Traviata." If you don't have a broadcast station available for it, you can listen to the webstream via WHRB (see side panel for a link).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Opera Week (Includes BSO 2011/01/06-08)

Last night (Wednesday, January 5) I went to a nearby movie theater for replay of the December 11 HD transmission of "Don Carlo" from the Metropolitan Opera. It was great. The most outstanding of a fine cast was Marina Poplavskaya, as Elisabetta. The basses were great as well, especially Ferruccio Furlanetto as Filippo and the unnamed comprimario who sang the role of the monk who seems to be the supposedly dead Emperor Carlo V. It's a great way to see first rate opera productions without having to travel far or pay opera house prices. Here is a link to a page giving locations outside the United States. For the United States, there are so many locations that you have two options, and then you enter your location to find nearby theaters. This is the page where you begin. And here's a page with the schedule for the rest of the season. They show dates for "encore performances" in the U.S. and Canada. I don't know if they are available in other countries. The live performances are Saturday matinees in New York, which means Saturday evenings in Europe.

I definitely want to see "Nixon in China," "Lucia di Lammermoor," "Il Trovatore," and "Die Walküre." If you aren't already an opera fan, my top recommendation would be "Il Trovatore." It's full of glorious music. I wish I had got to this sooner, because "Don Carlo" is even better, IMO. But both are fine examples of Verdi at his best.

You gotta try it. Even the ticket taker left the door to the theater open so he could hear it and occasionally came in to take a peek at last night's show.

This week the BSO is also doing opera in concert performances: "Oedipus Rex" by Stravinsky and "Bluebeard's Castle" by Bartók. Here's what the BSO website says about it:

And here's a link to their page, for further information. As usual, it can be heard over WCRB's stream at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, with "pre-game" show beginning an hour earlier. The Thursday performance is part of my subscription, so I'll be there. I don't expect it to be as great as "Don Carlo." Less than 60 years separates to dates of composition, but the music of Stravinsky and Bartók is so different from Verdi's as to seem to come from a different world, one in which I am much less at home. But the performances tonight could be exciting and gripping in their own way.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Concert etc.

If you missed the live performance of the Vienna Philharmonic's 2011 New Year's Day Concert (or even if you didn't), you can hear it over WCRB on Sunday, January 2, at 3:00 p.m., "Boston Time."

Also I was wrong to assume that the entire Bach Christmas Oratorio would be given last weekend. They only played the first three parts, leaving the final three for this weekend, I suppose. But I haven't been listening carefully enough to find out exactly when they will present (have presented) them. My best guess is that Part 5 or 6 will be presented sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 2.