For this first of two weeks celebrating Charles Dutoit's 80th birthday, the eminent Swiss conductor-who is also continuing a close, multi-season collaboration with the BSO-is joined by Yo-Yo Ma for Edward Elgar's substantial and popular Cello Concerto. The program of works by three 20th-century English composers opens with William Walton's Portsmouth Point Overture, a vibrant and jazzy early work inspired by a print of colorful activity at a seaport. Written between 1914 and 1916, Gustav Holst's astrologically inspired The Planets is by far his most enduringly popular work, a series of orchestrally rich character pieces, from fleet Mercury to mysterious Neptune.(Some emphasis added.)
I was there on Thursday, and I think it's worth hearing, which you can do this evening (Saturday) over the facilities of WCRB — radio or webstream — at 8:00 Boston Time. They also provide a page with the schedule of broadcasts and rebroadcasts for the remainder of the BSO season.
The curtain raiser by Walton was new to me, and the BSO hadn't played it since 1941. Based on a painting from the late 18th century of the English seaport, it's lively and engaging. The Elgar cello concerto I found dull and plodding. Maybe it was from having expectations that were too high, maybe the music just isn't that good, or maybe it was the way Ma and Dutoit chose to perform it, but it didn't hold my interest. Of course most people think the concerto is good, Dutoit is excellent, and Ma is the greatest cellist of his generation, so my opinion is probably that of a very small minority. Interestingly, there was no encore, despite the prolonged standing ovation. Mr. Ma left his cello backstage each time he returned (once alone and twice with Maestro Dutoit) to acknowledge the applause. Was he dissatisfied with his work? "The Planets" is good stuff, and I liked the performance. The female chorus faded out so well at the end that people didn't start applauding until Maestro Dutoit gave a gesture of ending at least five seconds after the chorus had stopped.
Published reviews are more favorable than mine. The Globe's found everything highly satisfactory. The reviewer was very pleased with Yo-Yo Ma's playing, noting some elements of his performance which I noticed, and dome which were beyond my grasp. The review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer was equally favorable, noting some of the same things about aspects of Yo-Yo Ma's playing as the Globe review said in other words. There was also some good detail about "The Planets," and the references to individual musicians in the orchestra give us something to listen for.
So I'll be listening afresh this evening to give Ma and Dutoit a second chance with the Elgar. Maybe it'll seem better this time.