Saturday, March 26, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/24-26

This week's concerts start with the American premiere performances of Dixi by Giya Kancheki and continue with the too often performed Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninoff, featuring Nikolai Lugansky as piano soloist. After intermission, we'll get Shostakovich's Symphony № 8. All is under the baton of Music Director Andris Nelsons. Go to the BSO's performance detail page for links to program notes, audio previews, performer bios, and a podcast. They describe the concert (in reverse order) thus:
Continuing the BSO's survey of the Stalin-era works of Dmitri Shostakovich, Andris Nelsons leads the composer's wartime Eighth Symphony. Written only a decade earlier, Rachmaninoff's perennially popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, here played by the Russian virtuoso Nikolai Lugansky, is a tour de force of compositional craft. Georgian-born Giya Kancheli, one of the world's most esteemed living composers, remained primarily in Tbilisi until 1990 but has developed a significant worldwide reputation. He developed a personal style that draws strongly on the music of the Christian Orthodox church. Dixi(2009) is a 22-minute work for chorus and orchestra setting fragments of Latin text.
(Emphasis in original.)

This concert wasn't part of my subscription, and it's just as well, since it's Holy Week, and I wouldn't have gone. I always attend the Holy Thursday evening Mass. So I can't give any personal observations. I won't even hear much or any of it during the live broadcast since I'll be in church for the Easter Vigil, and then there will be the weekly call from my brother in Japan. I did, however, buy a ticket for the concert next Tuesday, which will include the Kancheli and Shostakovich pieces, but will drop the Rachmaninoff and open with Shosty's Suite from the incidental music to Hamlet, which they played, and I heard, in February. I'm glad to be able to hear that unfamiliar music again, rather that having to sit through the Rhapsody once more.

The Globe reviewer leans more to describing the music than the way it was performed, but he finds elements of the latter to admire and nothing to criticize. He is bemused, however, by the Kancheli piece (unsurprisingly, given how it's described in this review and the BMInt's). The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as usual, has a longer review. Like the Globe, it is not highly impressed by "Dixi," but the reviewer has praise for elements of the performance, as well as for the playing in the Rachmaninoff. He saves his warmest praise, however for the orchestra's handling of the Shostakovich, section by section, and soloist by soloist. He is however mildly critical of the conductor for somehow failing to develop an overall cohesive approach to the symphony, despite his impressive handling of various sections.

In the light of all that, I'm prepared to be unimpressed by "dixi," when I hear it next Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to some impressive playing in the Shostakovich 8th. As always, you can hear the Saturday performance live over WCRB (broadcast or webstream) at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time (with a rebroadcast/stream on April 4, also at 8). Also, check out their BSO page, with its links to their weekly podcast (including an interview with the pianist) and other features.

Overall, then, I'd say this probably isn't quite at the level of "must hear," but it seems there will be some good playing and singing. Despite my carping, the Rachmaninoff will probably be the easiest to take for many listeners (myself included, probably, although I'm developing a tolerance for Shostakovich).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/17-19

This week's BSO concert provides some interesting music. The orchestra's performance detail page — where you can also find the usual links to their podcast, performer bios, audio previews, and program notes — gives this description:
French conductor Stéphane Denève, a frequent BSO guest in recent seasons, leads this diverse program including John Williams's Violin Concerto, a soaring and heartfelt work that has been championed by Gil Shaham-and which he recorded with John Williams and the BSO. Opening the program is music by another American composer, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon, whose colorful, atmospheric tone poem Blue Cathedral is her most frequently performed orchestral work. Closing the program and featuring the grand Symphony Hall organ is the sonorous, ultimately uplifting Symphony No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saëns.
(Most emphasis added.)

The Globe review finds nothing to dislike. So far, the Boston Musical Intelligencer hasn't published a review. If they do, I'll note it.

I was there on Thursday evening and found it all okay. The first piece, "Blue Cathedral," is pretty well described in the program notes, and it was nice to be able to follow it as it unfolded. I noticed that the four horn players had the glasses with water in them, which they were to play by dipping a finger in the water and rubbing the rim. (You can try this at home.) They didn't actually play them until toward the end, as it got quiet, but even the quiet music drowned them out for a while. Eventually they were faintly audible for five or ten seconds. Other musicians then started playing the chinese bells. The whole effect was charming. The Williams violin concerto didn't remind me of his movie music. Gil Shaham seemed to do a very nice job with it, but the piece itself isn't something I feel I need to hear again (although I'll give it another hearing during the broadcast — it isn't unpleasant). In the Saint-Saëns I had never actually noticed the organ before it enters loudly in the final movement. But this time I heard it quietly accompanying some of the softer parts earlier in the piece. Listen carefully, and you may hear it too. The sound is just a bit different from the woodwinds.

The place to listen is WCRB via radio or web at 8:00 p.m. EST (Boston Time) on Saturday, March 19, with a rerun on Monday, March 28 (same time of day, same station). Their BSO page has a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," with interviews with the conductor and the violinist. There is also the schedule for the rest of the season as links to previews of the upcoming Pops and Tanglewood seasons.

Friday, March 11, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/10-15

This week we have an all Beethoven concert from the BSO. Herbert Blomstedt conducts and Garrick Ohlsson solos. The BSO performance detail page, where you also find links to their podcast, program notes, audio previews, and performer bios, offers this description:
Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt returns to Symphony Hall for this Beethoven pairing. American pianist and audience favorite Garrick Ohlsson performs Beehoven's C major concerto-which shows the composer clearly moving beyond the models of Haydn and Mozart but still maintaining the clarity and balance of Viennese classicism. The beloved Seventh Symphony features a remarkable blend of lyricism and rhythmic drive.
(Emphasis added.)

I enjoyed it so much that I'm seriously considering getting a ticket for the Tuesday performance next week.

The Globe review is favorable, but with cautions. The reviewer liked the symphony more than the concerto. Boston Musical Intelligencer gives us a rave. I agree with BMInt. Frequently, when the music is from the 20th or 21st Century, I find myself grasping at straws to give faint praise — it wasn't so bad as ___ or ___, or there were pleasant moments, or it was tolerable, or it was appropriate for the subject. But in this concert the music was just plain great, and it was superbly performed. The piano concerto was not only pleasant music, but it was masterfully performed. I could hear things in the piano part that sounded similar to things in one of the greatest concertos of all time, Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto. From my seat, I could see the keyboard, and it enhanced the experience being able to see Garrick Ohlsson's hands move up and down the keyboard and his fingers hit the keys to produce the excellent music. In the symphony, it seemed possible to hear every element that went to make up the symphony. Beethoven's skill as a composer was on clear display. It all cohered into a fulfilling whole: satisfying, compelling, and thrilling. This was a performance which showed how great this piece is.

By all means, if you can get to Symphony Hall on Saturday or Tuesday, go. Otherwise, be sure to listen over WCRB, radio or web. If you can't listen on Saturday, there will be a rebroadcast and webstream on Monday, March 21. On their BSO page there is a link to a very lengthy (just over one hour) podcast which includes an interview with Maestro Blomstedt about the concert. I haven't heard it, but it's probably worth listening to if you've got time for it. The page also gives you the broadcast schedule for the rest of the season and links to other features available from the station.

My performer watch continues. In the horn section, Richard Sebring played first horn in the concerto, James Sommerville in the symphony. Rachel Childers played second horn in both, and delivered the low notes of the symphony's third movement with great aplomb. You can hear them: it's two notes that are repeated in the middle of a contrasting passage (the "trio") which is played more than once. In the oboes, Associate Principal Keisuke Wakao took first chair in the concerto and John Ferrillo, Principal, in the symphony. Clint Foreman was in the first chair of the flutes all evening. While the concerto didn't give very much opportunity to shine he played his part well. There was so much solo work for flute in the symphony that it occurred to me that it could be called (with some exaggeration) the "Flute Symphony." Clint Foreman nailed it all, as well as the duets with the oboe, so much so that when Maestro Blomstedt returned to the stage for a bow, the first orchestra member he had stand for a solo bow was Clint Foreman — then John Ferillo. And it seemed to me that he gave Rachel Childers a solo bow even ahead of Jamie Sommerville. What usually happens is that the first chair player gets a solo bow if s/he had a prominent part, then the whole section is asked to stand. In several other sections, I also noticed that the Principals didn't play until after intermission.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

BSO — 2016/03/03-05

Charles Dutoit guest conducts for a second week. This time it's music about Spain by Ravel and Falla. Read all about it on the BSO's program detail page, where you can also go to find links to program notes, audio previews, performer bios, and their podcast:
For Charles Dutoit's second week of concerts this season, the Swiss conductor leads three Spain-centered works. Maurice Ravel's delightful one-act comic opera L'Heure espagnole, presented here in a concert performance, details the amorous intrigues of a clockmaker's wife (mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as Concepción) and her gentleman friends. Rapsodie espagnole balances impressionistic atmosphere with Spanish dances. In between the Ravel pieces is the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla's magical Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a sparkling work for piano and orchestra here featuring Spanish soloist Javier Perianes in his BSO debut.
(Some emphasis added.)

The reviews in the Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer are favorable. The reviewers write more about the composers and the pieces than they do about the performers and performance. The Globe is briefer, due to their space limitations, and finds no fault. The BMInt goes into greater detail (including some irrelevant personal details about the reviewer), and finds flaws in some elements of the performance. Still, it's a wealth of background information, and it the criticisms are specific, not general. I wasn't there (instead attending a performance in Russian of Chekhov's "Three Sisters") so I can't comment.

The BSO has posted a couple of brief video clips from Thursday, so you can get an idea of what some of it is like. I can't find them on their website, but they are on the Boston Symphony Orchestra facebook page.

As always, WCRB will broadcast it live and stream it over the world wide web, beginning at 8:00 p.m., and they'll rerun it on Monday the 14th. Go to the station's BSO page for a link to interviews with conductor and pianist on "The Answered Question" as well as the schedule of upcoming broadcasts/webstreams and other links. This sort of music isn't my favorite (nor my "least favorite") but I think it's worth listening to, so I'll have my radio on.