Saturday, March 25, 2017

BSO — 2017/03/25

This week we have a world premiere between two works from the early 19th Century, one a staple of the repertory and the other somewhat less familiar. Here's the description from the orchestra's performance detail page:
American cellist Alisa Weilerstein joins French conductor François-Xavier Roth for the world premiere of the BSO-commissioned un despertar, for cello and orchestra by German composer Matthias Pintscher, with whom Weilerstein has collaborated in the past. Pintscher, also a noted conductor, is a major figure in classical music in both Europe and the U.S. Opening the program is Hector Berlioz's alternately romantic and swashbuckling Le Corsaire Overture, which, as was often the composer's practice, took shape from earlier sketches. The title is an incidental reference to James Fenimore Cooper's The Red Rover ("Le Corsaire rouge"). Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, Pastoral, is his only explicitly programmatic symphony, a fundamentally cheerful work illustrating a sojourn in the countryside.
(Some emphasis added.)

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

On Thursday evening, I enjoyed the Berlioz overture — a pleasant piece. I thought they did a good job with the Beethoven. As can happen with a good conductor and orchestra, there will be details which become noticeable in the performance which are usually covered by other instrumental lines. In this case, I heard wind parts in the first movement which normally are obscured by the strings. What makes this desirable is that I get to see a bit more of how Beethoven composed. I shouted bravo at the end to get the audience started on the deserved applause, since the symphony doesn't end with the sort of loud and fast music that guarantees a standing ovation.

On the other hand, it is hard to find something good to say about the cello concerto which received its world premiere on Thursday and will have its broadcast premiere this evening. For one who is not a music professional it was not possible to see any connection among the things that were played. Notes succeeded notes, phrases succeeded phrases, but without any apparent relation to one another. The good things were that it was not too terribly dissonant, it was pretty calm and mostly quiet, and even the loud parts weren't ear-splitting. So even though it had no apparent value, it wasn't unpleasant to listen to. It was apparently a workout for the cellist in places, and she and the orchestra deserve credit for carrying it off, but IMO no credit to the composer. Nevertheless, I'll listen to the broadcast and see if I can find more value in it on a second hearing.

The reviews (Globe here, and Boston Musical Intelligencer here) have no substantial criticism of the Pintscher piece, and only minor complaints about the opening and closing works. So we agree thar rhe concert is worth hearing when WCRB broadcasts and streams it at 8:00 p.m, Boston time, with a repeat on Monday, April 3 (although I wouldn't blame you for going to the fridge during the Pintscher — the Beethoven won't begin until after 9:00). As always, there's other good material about the concert and other programming available on the 'CRB website.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

BSO — 2017/03/18

This week we enjoy a concert of music from before the 20th Century. I'll let the orchestra's performance detail page describe it:
BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink leads the first BSO performances in thirty years of Joseph Haydn's 1774 Symphony No. 60, The Distracted, which was fashioned in six movements from music Haydn wrote for a play by that name. The women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus are a provocative, wordless presence in the "Sirens" movement of Debussy's three-movement orchestral suite Nocturnes. Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, premiered at the end of 1813, has been an audience favorite ever since. Wagner called it "the apotheosis of the dance"; its entrancing second-movement Allegretto, one of the most familiar movements in Beethoven's symphonies, was encored in its first performances.
(Some emphasis added.)

As usual, that page also has links to various informational material.

The reviews are favorable. The Globe's reviewer saw some room for improvement in the Haydn, but was otherwise pleased. The review by the musicologist at the Boston Musical Intelligencer nitpicks over a couple of details in the Debussy and suggests that the finale of the Beethoven was too fast, but in general is approving.

Both reviews note the immediate standing ovation for the Beethoven, but it's normal. Beethoven wrote a real crowd-pleaser with a guaranteed applause-catching finale. It would have been remarkable if the audience members hadn't given that ovation. I was quite happy with the whole thing. The Haydn was fun. Although I generally don't care for the French Impressionists, the "Nocturnes" were serene and the typical dissonances of the style were not annoying. The Beethoven 7th was performed just last spring, and normally that would be enough to set me off on my "don't keep playing the warhorses at the expense of other deserving rarely heard compositions" rant. But for Haitink I'll make an exception. It was definitely worth hearing, especially since fourth chair horn player Jason Snider did the "bullfrog" low notes in the 3rd movement perfectly every time.

So by all means listen in the the broadcast or webstream over WCRB at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time this evening (repeated at 8:00 on March 27 and subsequently available on demand for a year). This concert's a keeper. As always, the WCRB website is worth exploring for related information, such as their podcast and schedule of BSO broadcasts, as well as information about other programming.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

BSO — 2017/03/11

The Boston Symphony has returned to Symphony Hall just over a week ahead of the swallows' return to Capistrano. Unfortunately, they weren't back in time to play on Thursday, so I haven't heard the abbreviated week's very full concert under the baton of Finnish guest conductor Sakari Oramo. The show opens with Symphony № 3 by Sibelius. Then, after intermission, orchestra and conductor are joined by pianist Kirill Gerstein and the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus for the Piano Concerto of Busoni. That's right. There's a men's chorus in the fifth(!) movement of this 70-75 minute work. The orchestra's performance detail page provides the usual links and this description:
Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo and Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein return to Symphony Hall, joining the BSO and the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus for the visionary Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni's monumental Piano Concerto, a fascinating but rarely heard work of Mahlerian scope dating from the first years of the 20th century. These are the first BSO performances. (Future BSO conductor Karl Muck led the premiere in Berlin in 1904.) Opening the program is a very different sort of piece from the same era, Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 3, a sunny, open work with numerous touches of folk-music simplicity.
I generally like Sibelius, and this symphony should be enjoyable. I don't know what to expect from the Busoni. I've heard the audio preview linked on the BSO page, and what's there sounds okay; but will the whole thing be engaging, or too much of an okay thing?

Surprisingly, there is already a review in the Globe. It's quite favorable and gives a fair amount of description of the music. The reviewer praises both conductor and pianist, and finds no fault with anything. (On the other hand, there are no raves such as "best performance ever.")

This sounds like a pretty good one to listen to on WCRB radio or internet, at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time Saturday, with a rerun available at 8:00 on Monday, March 20. There is a link to a podcast on one of the interior pages. Browse the site for other information about the station's offerings.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

BSO/Classical New England — 2017/03/04

The orchestra is on tour this week, so WCRB is playing the Brahms Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3, which were performed in concerts last November. We were not scheduled to hear them on Saturday nights, though, because of an unusual scheduling decision. The BSO played Symphony No. 1 on Tuesday and Thursday, Nov. 8 and 10, and No. 3 on Tuesday and Thursday, Nov. 15 and 17. In the Friday and Saturday concerts of those weeks, they played the even-numbered symphonies. (But then the pianist had to cancel for Saturday, Nov. 15. The orchestra responded by replacing the concerto with Symphony No. 3. WCRB, however, decided to broadcast a recording of the Thursday concert  instead of the live concert that evening.)

My posts for those weeks include my impressions of the 1st and 3rd Symphonies and links to reviews etc. So you can track them down for more info. Back then, a review hadn't appeared in BMInt for the 3rd Symphony. Soon after I posted, one did. All it says about the symphony is, "Nelsons then led the orchestra in a thrilling and a tuneful reading of Brahms’s  Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 (1883). For all the music’s inherent excitement, I missed the careful attention to inner voices, the contrapuntal building blocks of Brahms’s compositional rhetoric. Leaping from peak to peak obscures value when the valleys disappear. While many in Symphony Hall reveled, I  left craving more."

I asked my brother, who is an amateur horn player, about the business in the horn section which I noted in my preview of the Nov. 19 concert, and he said that by Brahms' time, composers would indicate in the score which horn was to play which notes. So at least some of what I saw was probably specified by Brahms himself.

Note that in November the symphonies were played after intermission, with a new work and a piano concerto before the intermission. Those works will not be in the broadcast/stream this week, but they were also played on the Saturdays back then.

So, if you like Brahms, you're in for a treat this evening at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, as WCRB gives you two symphonies, recorded in concert last November. And the show will be repeated on Monday, March 13, at 8:00.

Happy listening.