Friday, October 7, 2016

BSO — 2016/10/08

Something old following something new: responses to death make up the program from the BSO on Saturday evening. Jörg Widmann had planned to write a four movement piano concerto for Yefim Bronfman and the Berlin Philharmonic, but the slow introduction to the first movement took over. He set aside any thought of the remainder and developed that intended intro into "Trauermarsch" — Funeral March. After intermission, we get the "German Requiem" of Brahms. Here's what the orchestra's performance detail page (which also has links to performer bios, program notes, audio previews, and podcasts) gives as a summary:
Eminent Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman joins Andris Nelsons and the BSO in Trauermarsch ("Funeral March") by the German Jörg Widmann, a composer new to the BSO. Writing this concerto-like piece for Bronfman and the Berlin Philharmonic, who premiered it in 2014, Widmann set out deliberately to evoke and engage with music of the Romantic era. A German Requiem, Brahms's largest work, originated with music he wrote following Robert Schumann's attempted suicide in 1854 and seems also to have been connected to the death of the composer's own mother. The result is an utterly personal, scarcely ceremonial Requiem for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra, episodically setting texts chosen by Brahms from the Bible. Its "German"-ness derives partly from the fact that, unlike the traditional Latin Requiem text, Brahms used Martin Luther's German translations of scripture. A German Requiem was the composer's first nearly universal success among his large-scale works, unequivocally fulfilling Schumann's early predictions of Brahms's greatness.
(Some emphasis added.)

I was at Symphony Hall for the Widmann on Thursday, but I didn't stay for the Brahms, partly as a protest against too frequent performances and partly because I had had a procedure performed on my eye just before I left for Boston, and discomfort was growing as the novocaine wore off. I didn't especially enjoy the Widmann piece. Much of it was noisy and without apparent rhyme or reason. Perhaps it will sound better over the radio. Perhaps listening to it a second time will disclose value not apparent at the first hearing. But at this point I don't want to hear it again after this concert. It's good to have a chance to hear new compositions, and I try to attend all world, American, or BSO premieres given by the orchestra, but there are some I hope they'll play again and some I don't.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with the Brahms German Requiem. Complaining about it's being performed too often is just my personal quirk. I'm sure almost everybody will be pleased to hear it.

Reviews of the concert were noncommittal about the Widmann. The Boston Musical Intelligencer was very pleased with the Brahms, while the Globe found fault here and there.

Listen at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, on October 8, over WCRB. If you'd rather skip the Widmann, be listening by 8:50 to make sure you catch all the Brahms. Check out their BSO page for the schedule of future broadcasts, and note that most concerts, including this one, are repeated nine days later and become available for on demand listening for a year. There's also a podcast about the concert linked on this page.

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