Saturday, December 3, 2011

BSO — 2011/12/01-03 — Info and Reviews

I was in the audience for the Thursday evening performance of John Harbison's Symphony No. 5 — which could be subtitiled "Orpheus and Eurydice" but hasn't been — with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4  and Leonore Overture No. 3 after the intermission. BTW, I had heard the world premiere of the Harbison when the BSO gave it three and a half years ago.

Here's a bit from the BSO website.
Making his BSO debut, Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek is chief conductor of the BBC Symphony and chief conductor designate of the Czech Philharmonic. The program opens with John Harbison's BSO-commissioned Symphony No. 5 (premiered in 2008) for baritone, mezzo-soprano, and orchestra, a dramatic, lyrical work setting poems inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The program's second half features American pianist Jonathan Biss in Beethoven's equally dramatic and lyrical Fourth Piano Concerto. To finish, Beethoven's powerful LeonoreOverture No. 3 offers another musical take on the transportive power of love.

That website page also has links to the program notes and an audio preview. I very much recommend the program note for the Harbison for a good explanation of the piece, including the use of three different poems to cover various facets of the legend.

Perhaps I'll revise my opinion after I hear the Harbison symphony again this evening and tomorrow afternoon, but the hearing on Thursday left me a bit disappointed. The baritone who sings the first two movements and with the mezzo soprano in the fourth had very clear enunciation, so that practically every word could be understood even without looking at the text in the program. The mezzo did almost as well in the third and fourth movements. And the texts were interesting. But the music itself was rarely engaging or even particularly expressive, to my ears. The composer was on hand, as he had been last week, to take a bow from the stage after his symphony. Then he was seated diagonally across from me in the first balcony for the second half. I couldn't help wondering if he was wondering if his symphony would be as much listened to after 200 years as Beethoven's music is today.

I want to like John Harbison's work, so I'll be hoping this symphony will impress me more on my later hearings. The poems have interesting insights into the legend, and at least the music doesn't get in the way of them; and of course Beethoven is always worth hearing. As usual, you can hear it over WCRB/WGBH/Classical New England. In addition to being able to hear the webstream, you can use this link to find a further link to a page where you can hear the composer himself talking about the symphony.

The Globe reviewer seems to have liked the Harbison better than the way the orchestra played the Beethoven.

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