Friday, April 10, 2015

BSO — 2015/04/09-14

This week the BSO give us three very different works: a contemporary and sometimes slightly jazzy piece by Gunther Schuller which serves as a curtain-raiser for an elegant piano concerto by Mozart, and after the intermission one of Strauss's massive tone poems. The orchestra's performance detail page — with its usual links to program notes, performer bios, and audio previews — says the following about the program:
The legendary, Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Gunther Schuller's recent orchestral work Dreamscapebegins this program. According to Schuller, this sparkling, witty, symphony-like work, commissioned by the BSO for Tanglewood's 75th anniversary and premiered by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in 2012, came to him wholly in a dream-hence its title. Its personal aspects and use of quotation make it a neat companion for Richard Strauss's novelistic tone poem Ein Heldenleben ("A Heroic Life"), which references several of the composer's earlier pieces in an amazingly virtuosic orchestral display. In between, the acclaimed Mozartian Richard Goode joins Maestro Nelsons and the orchestra for Mozart's elegantly soft-spoken final piano concerto [No. 27, in B-flat].
(Some emphasis supplied.)

The review in the Globe found no fault with anything but was not especially enthusiastic. The Boston Musical Intelligencer finds things to praise in each piece.

My initial impression of Dreamscape was unfavorable. It seemed percussive and disjointed in the early going. Some of the jokes had me chuckling, though, and I was a bit mollified. The calm second movement (I didn't see it as dark) was easier to take. During the third part, my attention wandered a bit, but at least I found nothing objectionable. I'm looking forward to giving it a second chance during the broadcast on Saturday. Maybe it will seem better on rehearing.

Strauss's Heldenleben is, like a lot of Strauss, too long in my opinion. But it's not really unpleasant, and it seemed to be well played, as far as I could tell.

In the 1950's my father's aunt gave us a record player with an automatic changer. You could stack records on the spindle, and when one was finished it would drop the next one onto the turntable. The first thing I did was to play a set from the 1930's with Robert Casadesus and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra performing the Mozart 27th. I loved it at once. So this concerto is special to me. I really liked Richard Goode and the BSO's performance. Sometimes some of the themes in the first and third movements sound "cutesy" or "precious;" but in Goode's hands they were pleasant without seeming childish. I think the BMInt reviewer picked up on it. So I found it a very satisfying performance.

Of course you can listen for yourself over WCRB at 8:00 on Saturday, with a repeat on April 20. Their BSO page, as usual, has a link to a lengthy preview interview.

My recommendation: give the Schuller piece a listen. It only lasts about 11 minutes. You'll probably want to read Schuller's description of the piece in the program notes before you listen. By all means, enjoy the Mozart. If you like Strauss, you'll want to stick around after intermission for his massive tribute to himself.

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