Bartók, Piano Concertos, K. Zimerman, L. O. Andsnes, H. Grimaud, P. Boulez
Mozart, Symphonies (14, 18, 20, 39, 41), Boston Symphony Orchestra,
Boston has managed to hold on to its accustomed place in the rankings of the Big Five American Orchestras, something that Levine's leadership has strengthened, although the worries about his health undermining the efforts to improve the orchestra were rampant. The organization seems fiscally sound -- there is a dizzying number of endowed chairs for lead players, across all sections, for example -- and the playing remained at a very high level, especially the smooth unity of the strings and the imperious power of the brass, although not so far above our two local orchestras as one might have expected. Abbado is to blame for competent but somewhat predictable interpretations of two very mainstream symphonies, beginning with Haydn's Symphony no. 93, one of the London symphonies. We are always happy to hear Haydn programmed, and Abbado gave the first and last movements crisp articulation and line, mostly allowing the orchestra its head in terms of pacing, rather than fighting with them. Only the third movement had a slightly affected approach to the pickup of the main theme, given an increasingly mannered lengthening. The various solos were all pleasing, especially the string quartet that opens the Largo movement and the hilariously belched low C, marked fortissimo, from the bassoon that ends it.
Anne Midgette, Abbado delivers the Boston Symphony Orchestra safely (Washington Post, March 21)
Alex Baker, Boston in DC, sans Levine (Wellsung, March 20)
Jeremy Eichler, For guest conductor Andris Nelsons, an auspicious BSO debut (Boston Globe, March 19)
James R. Oestreich, A Fresh Face Confronts a Seasoned Mahler (New York Times, March 18)
Anthony Tommasini, Boston Symphony Shows Verve Even Without Levine (New York Times, March 16)
Geoff Edgers, After the maestro (Boston Globe, March 13)
George Loomis, BSO/Lehninger, Symphony Hall, Boston (Financial Times, March 7)
Tom Service, Birtwistle premiere (The Guardian, March 6)
Rodney Lister, Birtwistle and Schuller Concertos (Sequenza 21/, March 6)
By comparison to Mario Venzago's striking, unexpected interpretation of Beethoven's fifth symphony in Baltimore the night before, Abbado's choices at the podium had few surprises in this famous work. It was the sort of utterly Romantic fifth symphony that is heard on many classic recordings, long on agitation and volume -- indeed, at times so earth-shatteringly loud as to be uncomfortable. The generative kernel of the entire work, those famous first eight notes, sat on the page, loud and hammered like so much of the piece but going nowhere. Even the slow movement, taken at a more traditional and slower tempo, was forceful and the third movement kept strictly in tempo. The transition to the extremely fast finale was particularly tense, the rumble of the timpani muffled in the distance. Abbado emphasized some details of the score, almost half-heartedly: the oboe solo that interrupts the first movement's recapitulation (and the sound of that instrument, in general) was much better in Baltimore, and the horns had just as many minor issues in both orchestras. So, Boston may have the edge in overall sound, by a length, but points to Baltimore for a more interesting interpretation of this symphony and points also to Christoph Eschenbach and the NSO for the more interesting programming.
The next visiting orchestra on the WPAS roster is the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, which comes to Strathmore next month (April 12, 8 pm) with cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Yuri Temirkanov is scheduled to lead this tour, but the name of conductor Nikolai Alexeev has also been mentioned. Let the speculation begin!