Music

Eschenbach conducts Schumann and Zemlinsky with the San Francisco Symphony—and an Appreciation of Zemlinsky

The San Francisco Symphony gave two performances last Saturday night–one it may have been unhappy with–and one it may have been unhappy about.

This somewhat unusual state of affairs began with an annoucement from the stage that the concert was being delayed. I had wondered at the half empty hall, something you don’t normally see in San Francisco. Dysfunction on the Golden Gate Bridge, as it turned out. A number of players were stuck and much of the audience was still in transit.

Pristine Audio brings back the Salle Pleyel of 1929/30: Pierre Monteux Conducts Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, Ravel, etc.

The special sound of the Orchestre de Paris playing in the splendid Salle Pleyel was still fresh in my ears, when the latest crop of releases from Pristine Classical arrived, offering recordings of Pierre Monteux conducting the “Orchestre Symphonique de Paris” in the Salle Pleyel itself. The most important of these extremely rare 78 sets, made between January 1929 and February 1930, is a complete Sacre du Printemps, the earliest of the seven live or studio recordings, which have been released of Monteux performances. This brings us within two decades of the historic 1913 premiere with the Ballets Russes. Monteux’s authority in this score never diminished, and the performances from the end of his life are as vital as this early effort and are still revered today. Like the later ones, this performance is marked by its flow and coherence—a complete grasp of the shape and drama of the great ballet, which give the performance a sense of unity, without compromising its angular rhythms and its vivid, often harsh colors and textures. You will never hear a Sacre more musical than any of Monteux’s recordings.

Orchestre de Paris: Blomstedt and Mustonen in Stravinsky and Bruckner

I am always delighted to attend any concert under Herbert Blomstedt, who fortunately conducts the Boston Symphony quite often, both in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, where he is especially valued, not only as a conductor, but as a teacher at the Tanglewood Music Center. At 82, after an impressive career as music director of several great orchestras, including the Dresdener Staatskapelle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the San Francisco Symphony (all of which have been received a good deal of attention on the Review of late…look soon for a review of the partially great Dresden Ring). After Steven Kruger most perceptively reviewed his Bruckner Sixth with the San Francisco Symphony, I was lucky enough to catch up with Maestro Blomstedt in Paris, where he conducted Bruckner’s pivotal Fifth Symphony. I was also fortunate to have a brief, informal chat with him after the performance, as well as with the brilliant soloist, Olli Mustonen, who is less well known than he should be, because, like Sibelius, he spends a good deal of his time in rural Finland, enjoying family life and composing. After this concert, he was looking forward to going home to his wife and his week-old son.

Now available: “Celebrating Carter’s Century,” music by Elliott Carter from the 2008 Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood

An especially exciting bit of news was tucked away in the middle of the release: the BSO’s own recording label, will release as a download Celebrating Carter’s Century, music by Elliott Carter from the 2008 Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. We can only hope that the documentation of this great event will be as complete as possible.

Chailly, Lortie, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra play Beethoven at Symphony Hall; Levine All-Beethoven with the BSO

Ludwig van Beethoven

A couple of years ago the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Chailly visited Boston and gave a wonderful Symphony Hall concert of Richard Strauss tone poems. The orchestra, with a lot of young members, played splendidly, with great group spirit. And Chailly gave extraordinary purpose and meaning to the music. He and the orchestra under his leadership showed care and commitment with every bar, every note, and fashioned each piece into a compelling organic whole. Wow! one felt. Friends of mine in New York heard the same program a week later there and had much the same reaction.

Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra in San Francisco play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with Denis Matsuev and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15

This week, the touring Mariinsky Orchestra, led by the ubiquitous Valery Gergiev, performed two evenings at Davies Hall in San Francisco. The first program, which I did not hear, was devoted to Prokofiev ballets and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The second, more intriguing to me, presented Shostakovich’s enigmatic final symphony, as well as an opportunity to assess the Rachmaninoff artistry of Denis Matsuev, who is being hailed these days as a pianist in the Horowitz tradition.

Mariss Jansons leads the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Janine Jansen at Carnegie Hall in Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, and Mahler

Mariss Janssons conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor Janine Jansen, Violin Sibelius, Violin Concerto Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2 in E Minor Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 8 PM Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Mariss Jansons, Chief…
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Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in an All-Ravel Program

For a good part of this reviewer’s life, it would seem, the world has been waiting for a truly great International French symphony orchestra. At mid-century, a general feeling was that the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitzky and Charles Munch carried the torch for French music, ably assisted by Paul Paray in Detroit, Pierre Monteux wherever he could be found, and, on disc, by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva.

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