In the final song, “Des Baches Wiegenlied,” the lullaby enveloped the miller, the brook and its music dragging him in ineluctably, each verse slowing gently, getting quieter, until time entirely dissolved at the mention of the eternal heavens above. It had seduced once, and it entranced one last time.
It was bewitchingly gentle, coaxed to a duration half as long again as any other version of this song I have heard. The paradox was that Goerne and Eschenbach wove the spell so beautifully that, as the beat slackened, one’s heart raced, ever more loudly, eventually hanging on as all that was left.
This was exquisite. Read the rest of my review at Bachtrack here.
… and it looks pretty good. Nelsons himself will be in town for ten weeks, which is apparently a problem for some, although I cannot work out why. Certainly this kind of stability will be a welcome change from years of three-week rotations of guest conductors, enabling all kinds of improvements to the orchestra, as well as a sense of direction.
Nelsons gets going with a gala event that also features his wife, Kristīne Opolais, and Jonas Kaufmann. But more importantly, he has littered his first season with tributes to local composers, whether local to Boston or local to him in Latvia. Gunther Schuller, John Harbison, and Michael Gandolfi all receive prime billing, while there are premieres for Brett Dean and Ēriks Ešenvalds, plus Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium. (Further contemporary music comes from Vladimir Jurowski and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who present Harrison Birtwistle’s new piano concerto, Responses, an unmissable event.) Nelsons will also play to his strengths, of course: Bartók, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Brahms, Haydn, Strauss, Mozart, Bruckner, Shostakovich, Mahler, and Beethoven all feature. Particular highlights ought to be the Rite and Mahler 6, the latter to be performed at Carnegie Hall, and a European tour that will do the usual festival stops.
There is plenty else to whet the appetite in the most exciting season the BSO has put together in years. Bernard Haitink rounds off the season with two programmes, one featuring Maria Joăo Pires in Mozart, the other quite oddly pairing Ravel (Ma Mère l’Oye and the piano concerto) with Mozart and Thomas Adès. Charles Dutoit leads an enticing performance of Szymanowski’s Król Roger, while Stéphane Denève returns with Milhaud, Stravinsky, and Poulenc. Alas, after having to cancel this year’s sole concert with the orchestra, Daniele Gatti does not return.
For far more, see the BSO’s website.
If there’s one thing you can rely on from the Vienna Philharmonic, it’s that they won’t mess with Mozart. After a complacent and at times embarrassingly played first concert in this ‘Vienna: City of Dreams’ festival, it was a relief to see the fullest of full complements of strings on stage for one of Mozart’s earlier symphonies. And if the Philharmonic’s characteristic sound had dragged Schoenberg and Beethoven down, here it would be more welcome. Gorgeous long lines ensued in the fluttery slow movement, woodwinds were beautifully mellow, and there was a general busyness to the tone that came close to glee.
That sound, however, also had to reckon with Franz Welser-Möst. The hard-driven, incessant quality that had marred Beethoven’s Ninth on the previous night somehow carried over to this Mozart.
Oh, to hear this orchestra playing well. They did Johannes Maria Staud a good deal of credit in his interesting On Comparative Meteorology, but the rest of this was as anaemic as the first programme. Read the rest of my review at Seen & Heard here. And keep fingers crossed for tonight’s Wozzeck, for which, alas, Franz Welser-Möst replaces Daniele Gatti.
Franz Welser-Möst and the Vienna Philharmonic opened ‘Vienna: City of Dreams’ with Beethoven’s Ninth and Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden at Carnegie. It wasn’t entirely successful. Read my review at Bachtrack here.
Beethoven has changed beyond recognition since Strauss memorialised him, and an entire culture with him, by quoting the funeral march of the “Eroica” symphony at the end of his Metamorphosen. The notes in the scores are still the same, of course, although with “urtext” editions even those have come into question. How those notes are played has changed completely, although there are some who keep the old flames alive. And what those notes mean, even the idea that they can have meaning, has been challenged, perhaps destroyed. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but the Beethoven of Strauss’s generation reverberated beyond itself, even if never in a simple way. To hear (or at least write) that quotation then was to recognize, in pain, what had been lost to war. Now it has taken on an extra layer of loss as well.
Read the rest of my review of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s concert of Beethoven, Strauss, and Shostakovich with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Johannes Moser at Seen & Heard here.
This wasn’t a concert. It was the Second Coming. Well the first, really: Jonas Kaufmann’s surprisingly belated Carnegie Hall debut. He ended it with six encores, and had almost to be dragged off stage by his partner Helmut Deutsch, as he waved behind him and blew kisses over his shoulder. After his fourth encore, Strauss’s ‘Cäcilie,’ had drawn howls of approval, he bowed so low that he ended up supplicating himself on one knee.
A list of what Kaufmann did wonderfully during this recital would be long and, for me at least, embarrassing. In his case, as so rarely in our present climate, the celebrity is matched by talent that at times becomes unfathomable. The two combined make it almost impossible not to collapse into fan-boy adoration. And I’m not alone in this: in all my time in concert halls, I have never heard waves of noise from an audience like these.
Read the rest of my review at Seen & Heard here.
Film scores seem to be the “in” thing at the moment. This West Side Story has been making its way around the United States for nearly three years now, to wide acclaim. It’s a much tougher proposition than the 2001: A Space Odyssey with which Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic opened their season back in September. In that, complexities of Ligeti aside, Gilbert did not have a great deal to do: certainly there were no especially long periods of music, there was no need to synchronise with songs, and so on. For that concert, all Gilbert had in front of him was the big screen and a digital clock. For his, conductor David Newman had a technological battery, including a sound deck and an ingenious screen that overlay the film with a series of coloured lines (upbeat, downbeat, transition) that moved from left to right. He and the Boston Symphony Orchestra wore earpieces that transmitted a ticking metronomic beat, and the result was entirely predictable: a slightly foursquare feel.
Bernstein was never happy with the film score, over which he ceded some control in terms of orchestration. For this update, the soundtrack has been digitally scrubbed with algorithms trained to recognise orchestral inputs and delete them. The singers and other noise are left, for Newman to support. The score has been reorchestrated (again) for a symphony orchestra by Garth Edwin Sunderland of the Leonard Bernstein Office, to make it palatable in a concert hall and to make it a dash more idiomatic. And if it is never quite as precise as the Symphonic Dances in terms of colour, it has unquestionable pizazz.
It might be thought that, with a conductor having ruthlessly to follow the clock, there was little room for spontaneity or expression. Not so, not least because of the playing of the BSO. A slightly second-string roster performed more than adequately. Newman might have brought out more of Bernstein’s kaleidoscopic vision, and indeed had those dance rhythms hit home more (surely my experiences with Gustavo Dudamel play with my hopes here). Yet he kept the sentimentality in check (the quick original tempos help) while still allowing the strings to bloom in “Maria,” “Somewhere,” and the touching final credits, and the whole thing was a tremendous feat of concentration.
A word, to conclude, on the concept. In the programme notes, Thomas May has a long piece describing how the BSO’s performances of West Side Story, Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, and the forthcoming Andris Nelsons Salome are all riffs on “Music as Theater,” a way for orchestras to reach out to new audiences, adapt to new expectations, and so on, while exploring the idea of “the orchestra as a vehicle for a vivid type of theatrical experience in which music operates as the dramatic agent.” (That would be, er, Wagner’s Opera and Drama, no?) I’m all for trying new things with film scores and so on, especially when we are dealing with the likes of Bernstein or, say, Prokofiev. Think of it as a film night rather than a concert night, and it is an exciting, even visceral experience that lends new immediacy to what’s projected on the screen. Certainly I would not have been as distressed by the time Maria holds the dying Tony in her arms without the halo of string sound so poignantly produced by the orchestra. But the notion that experimentation needs to be couched in terms of outreach belittles not only our tradition, but potential audiences too.
Play good music, play it well, and play it without routine: they’ll come.