Saturday, March 31, 2012

BSO — 2012/03/27-31 Info and Reviews — Also St. Matthew Passion

BSO.  This week's Boston Symphony is unusual: before the intermission a keyboard concerto of Bach's, reworked into the supposedly "original" violin concerto which Bach wrote and then transcribed; then fast forward 200 years for something by the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski; and after intermission Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. Bach is usually the province of "early music" specialists; Lutosłaswski isn't exactly a household name; and the Fourth is not one of the more frequently performed of the Beethoven symphonies (and rightly so, IMO). Surprisingly, to me anyway, it turned out to be a good program.

First, though here's the BSO website, where you can get their information about the music. They summarize it as follows:
Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who has appeared with the BSO as soloist, conducts the orchestra for the first time in two works and is soloist and conductor for Bach's Violin Concerto in D minor. The Polish composer Witold Lutosławski's sonorous, moving Musique funèbre was composed for the tenth anniversary of Bartók's death and was a watershed work for its composer. Beethoven's high-spirited, gregarious Symphony No. 4 closes the program.

As for reviews, the Globe was generally approving, but with reservations. IMO the Bach piece worked quite well as a violin concerto. The program note indicates the there are enough examples of how Bach transformed violin concertos into harpsichord concertos that people can make good guesses at how a hypothetical violin concerto would have looked when all they have top go on is the keyboard version. In this instance, you wouldn't know it wasn't Bach's original. The Lutosławski piece was intended to be  12-tone music. but I could hardly recognize it as such. Much of the time, the pitches he chooses out of the possible 12 actually harmonize. So it was pretty easy listening. Even the jarring dissonance in the middle was tolerable. I think for the audience in the hall, it benefited from the way the players were seated in a semicircle. You could see the music traveling from the cellos on the far right to the first violins on the left, as each section entered; you could see clearly which sections were playing; and at the end, you could see them dropping out from left (top violins) to right (second cellos) until finally there was just a solo cellist. But I think it should be worth hearing even without the visual element. I've never really liked the final two movements of the Beethoven Fourth Symphony. They seemed gruff and boisterous, without much musical value. But on Thursday in symphony hall, they finally sounded like music, not organized noise. I suppose I have to give credit to the conductor for that.

You can hear it all on Classical New England on Saturday at 8:00, with "pre-game" show at 7:00 p.m., and background interviews preceding the concert and during intermission. The repeat should be at 1:00 on Sunday, and "on demand" streaming for two weeks thereafter. As with the BSO website, there are links to background info on the concert.

St. Matthew Passion.  On Sunday afternoon at 3:00 you can hear a live performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion by he Handel and Haydn Society broadcast and streamed by Classical New England, the same folks who bring you the BSO Saturday concerts. For details and links to additional information, see this page of their website. The Globe's reviewer was quite pleased with the first performance, on Friday evening.

My brother and I have tickets to this performance, so you'll be listening along with us if you tune in or log on.

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