Saturday, February 27, 2016

BSO — 2016/02/25-27

I wish this were one of the concerts the BSO is performing on the following Tuesday as well as on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the current week. I'd love a chance to hear it again in Symphony Hall. The BSO program detail page provides this description, mixing up the order in which the pieces are being performed:
Charles Dutoit returns to the BSO podium for two weeks in the 2015-2016 season. In this first program he leads two Berlioz works for chorus and orchestra: the major, wide-ranging, and highly dramatic Te Deum, featuring solo tenor Paul Groves, and the lesser-known Resurrexit, a movement from a Missa solennelle complete Mass setting from 1824. Henri Dutilleux's masterful Timbres, espace, mouvementcontinues the BSO's recognition of the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. This beautiful 1978 work was inspired by Van Gogh's most famous painting, The Starry Night.
(Some emphasis added.)
In performance, "Resurrexit" and "Timbres, espace, mouvement" will precede the intermission and "Te Deum" follow it. As usual, there are links to audio previews, program notes, performer bios, etc. on that detail page.

Reviews were mixed. In the Globe, we read of "verve" in the conducting of the opening piece and attention to atmosphere and detail in the second, but the reviewer found "more than a few patchy moments" in the singing of the adult chorus, while the children's chorus was fine. The Boston Musical Intelligencer loved the "Resurrexit" and raved over the "Timbres, espace, mouvement," but found the "Te Deum" "all too often leaning precariously on the brink of unintelligibility. Berlioz’s bigness was too much for the place." Perhaps the sound will be clearer when filtered through the radio or the web.

At any rate, I didn't have the dissatisfaction the BMInt reviewer did. Berlioz knew how to write good loud music, with enough quieter stuff so that the loud parts are really fun. The "Resurrexit" and "Te Deum" are good examples: glorious masses of sound. I ought to complain about Berlioz taking liberties with the texts: inserting words into the "Resurrexit" and rearranging the order of the "Te Deum" and leaving out a couple of lines. On the other hand, he wasn't composing either for an actual liturgy when he did those things, so maybe it's alright. Anyway, I loved wallowing in it. As for the Dutilleux, I may have been trying too hard to hear what the program notes talked about. I was underwhelmed, but had the feeling that I didn't get it. Maybe listening without specific expectations will work better. I'll be out on Saturday evening, but I hope I'll be able to listen to the rebroadcast on March 7.

So by all means, listen if you can. If you're within striking distance of Symphony Hall, get a ticket and go. Otherwise, enjoy it over the facilities of WCRB. Their BSO page gives a link to their podcast with interviews with Maestro Dutilleux and second chair horn player Rachel Childers. It also gives the broadcast/webstream schedule for the remainder of the BSO season and other features.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

BSO — 2016/02/18-20

The BSO's program detail page for this week's concerts has the following description:
In a concert of distinctly opposed moods, Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski leads two rarely heard works of Haydn's. His three-movement Symphony No. 26, Lamentatione, takes its nickname from its use of a Gregorian chant melody linked to the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Poised between the Baroque and Classical eras, Haydn's Violin Concerto No. 1 was written early in Haydn's service to the Esterházys. Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova, in her BSO debut, plays this and the important German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Concerto funebre, the composer's 1939 meditation on the approach of war [extensively revised in 1959, per the program notes]. Concluding the concert is Beethoven's high-spirited Symphony No. 2.
(Some emphasis added.)

The actual order of performance is as shown on the performance detail page, where you can also find the usual links to background information.

The Globe's brief review is favorable — somewhat more so of the conductor than of the soloist. The more extensive and insightful Boston Musical Intelligencer review (of the Friday matinee) is also very favorable, but not without minor criticisms. On Thursday, I enjoyed the concert. I thought the violinist played very well, as did the orchestra. I'm not a musicologist, but as an amateur listener, I found no fault. The Haydn was genial; the Hartmann was serious, but not unpleasant to hear; and the Beethoven was full of good cheer. My only complaint is that the audience should have given longer ovations. I was happy to see a couple of younger players getting first chair duties. Wesley Collins, visible behind the conductor in the Globe photo, was first chair viola in all four pieces; and Clint Foreman was first chair flute in the Beethoven, which was the only piece with flutes in it, and handled his solos flawlessly to my ears.

So by all means, listen in on Saturday over WCRB radio or webstream at 8:00 p.m. and/or to the repeat on Monday, February 29, also at 8. Their BSO page has brief descriptions of this and upcoming concerts, as well as a link to their podcast preview which includes interviews with conductor and soloist.

Also worth noting is that at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday Feb. 21, WCRB will be presenting their recording of the performance last season by the Handel and Haydn Society of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah. I didn't get to it and I very much want to hear the broadcast. There's a link to the program book here on the station's website.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

BSO — 2016/02/11-13

The Shakespeare festival concludes this week. Go to the orchestra's program detail page for the usual links. Their description of the program is as follows:
Completing the BSO's three-program celebration of Shakespeare's work, Andris Nelsons and BSO English horn player Robert Sheena give the world premiere of New York-based composer George Tsontakis's Sonnets, Concerto for English horn and orchestra, inspired by several of Shakespeare's poems. Tsontakis's music is dynamically expressive and architecturally satisfying. Shakespeare's tragedies inspired the other three works on the program. Tchaikovsky's alternately aggressive and love-struck Romeo and Juliet needs no introduction; much less familiar is Strauss's overtly dramatic Macbeth, the composer's first tone poem. Dvořák's Othello Overture conveys the passions of love and its darker emotions.
(Some emphasis added.)

As so often happens, they don't list things in the order they're performed. The concert opens with the Strauss Macbeth, followed by Dvořák's Othello. After the intermission we get the Tsontakis Sonnets, and the concert concludes with the Tchaikovsky.

I was there on Thursday and have no complaints. The Strauss Macbeth was worth hearing, as was the Dvořák Othello. While Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet is given too often, it isn't bad. All three seemed well performed. The Tsontakis Sonnets at a few points made me think of bits of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, which I guess means that the musical style is fairly accessible. You won't mistake it for Haydn, but you won't run screaming from the auditorium, or wherever you radio or computer speakers are located. In each sonnet, the music is softer at the beginning, corresponding to the first quatrian, and it intensifies for the second, and more so for the third. The it calms down for the final couplet. Glancing at the texts in the program notes, I could see some connection between the music and the theme of the sonnet. The BSO has posted a video of a bit of the second sonnet. It gives as good an impression of the piece as you can in a short time.

There's a favorable review in the Boston Globe, with a bit more description of the new piece, as well as references to some elements of the festival outside the regular concerts. The Boston Musical Intelligencer reviewer is even more enthusiastic about the Tsontakis piece than the Globe. Additional information about the new piece is in this article from The Arts Fuse with some words from Robert Sheena.

So by all means, listen to the broadcast or the streaming of the concert approximately live over WCRB on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, or the rerun on Monday, the 22nd, also at 8:00. On their BSO page, in addition to the list of the pieces being performed, there is a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," this week featuring interviews with the conductor and the soloist. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but I expect it to be interesting. There you can also find what is scheduled for the remaining broadcasts of the season.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

BSO — 2016/02/04-06

The Shakespeare festival continues with "Hamlet" before intermission and "Romeo and Juliet" after. The BSO performance detail page offers the following description:
Continuing the BSO's survey of Shostakovich's Stalin-era symphonic works, as well as a three-week focus on works influenced by Shakespeare, Andris Nelsons leads the composer's rarely heard, emotionally charged and evocative incidental music for Shakespeare's Hamlet. His countryman Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet score was one of that composer's most popular works. In between comes a recent work by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen, whose wide-ranging, imaginative, and beautifully poignant let me tell you (2014) is based on Paul Griffith's atmospheric novel told from the perspective of Hamlet's Ophelia. Here making her BSO debut, soprano Barbara Hannigan premiered the piece under Andris Nelsons' direction with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2013.
(Some emphasis added.)

See the page also for the usual links to podcast, performer bios, audio previews and program notes.

I was there on Thursday evening. It was surprising to read in the program notes that the "Hamlet" for which Shostakovich composed the music being played took the play as a satire on contemporary people and events. The music makes sense when you realize the play was performed for laughs, and it's pretty enjoyable. My reaction to "let me tell you" as it was being performed was largely negative: vocal line without melody or clear relation to the text, other than at a point in Part 2 where the music appropriately evoked an operatic "mad scene." After it was finished, I realized that it had been brilliantly sung and played (especially impressive quiet playing from the brass). One nice touch was the sliding of a piece of paper over the surface of the bass drum in the third part, suggesting the sound of shuffling through snow. On further reflection, I can concede that the musical style may be what is possible at this point: baroque or romantic melody may not be possible. I'm not sure that's true, but this is music of its time. Unlike the first two pieces, the Prokofiev is fairly familiar, and it was enjoyable to hear, if nothing about it was spectacular. There was a nice bit of solo playing from the first chair strings.

The Globe review was definitely favorable. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives much detail about the music, especially the Abrahamsen, not so much about how it was performed. Both are worth reading for their insights into the music.

WCRB will broadcast and stream the concert live on Saturday, February 6, at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, with a repeat on Monday the 15th, also at 8:00. On their BSO page there is a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," with a lengthy interview with the soprano, Barbara Hannigan, and another with Andris Nelsons, preceded by a look back at last week's concert and followed by an interview about an opera that will be broadcast on Sunday. I think the Hannigan interview, especially, might be interesting. Surprisingly, she has exclusive rights to perform "let me tell you" for five years.

Despite my initial misgivings about "let me tell you," I think it could be interesting to hear if you can tolerate any contemporary classical music. But be sure to have the text from the program notes. I think it works best, perhaps only, when the words are associated with the music — unlike much 19th Century opera where the music is gorgeous even if you don't know what they're saying.