Tag Archive: Rachmaninoff

Boston Symphony Orchestra: Looking Up

Dmitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven

Writing here recently about last season at the Boston Symphony, I had recourse more than once to the phrase “just notes going by” in response to Andris-Nelsons-led performances that I did not like (I did praise a number of performances as well). I am happy to say that I think no one would say “just notes going by” about the recent, September 28th concert which opened the orchestra’s subscription series for 2017-2018. First, Nelsons and the orchestra and soloist Paul Lewis presented a definite view of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G-major, Opus 58; they had something to say with it. And the large Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 (“The Year 1905”) which followed, seemed to come into its own and express itself as fully as one could imagine.

Vasily Petrenko leads the SF Symphony in Glinka, Lalo, and Rachmaninoff, with Joshua Bell, violin

Vasily Petrenko

I don’t know how many in the audience had ever heard anything like it, a symphony dragging itself to a conclusion like a wounded beast over shrieking strings, bass drum rolls gone mad, brass, cymbals and tam tam flashing like jaws and teeth. And then, there was that set of hall-flattening final chords, like crates dropped on the stage, followed by silence for five seconds, broken only by a quiet “Jesus!” under someone’s breath. Welcome to the Rachmaninoff First Symphony!

A Crop of Recordings X

This CD has already become a favored and frequented member of my collection. Chandos has a long and successful history of recording the BBC Philharmonic, but this is the first recording I’ve encountered from their new venue in MediaCity, Salford. I’m happy to report that the transparency, fine balances and smooth listenability of the old Studio 3 are alive and well in the new facility. And the performances, under recently appointed Music Director Juanjo Mena, are as idiomatic and atmospheric as one could hope for.

Ian Hobson, piano: Preludes – Etudes – Variations at Merkin Concert Hall, February 22, 2016: Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff

Pianist Ian Hobson

Mr. Hobson’s program, consisting of a very early work by Chopin, which he wrote as a conservatory student at age 17 and performed soon after his graduation two years later, the fifty-year-old Debussy’s peak as a writer for the piano, and Rachmaninoff’s final work written in Russia: in 1917, when he was forty-four, and his world was crumbling around him, as the Revolution continued its course and he realized that he would have to leave his native country, where he had friends, money, and property, and face an uncertain future as an exile, most likely supporting his family with concert tours in the United States, which he hated. All these works have their harmonic, coloristic, and emotional extremities, at points going as far as to reflect the Paganinian tradition of the demented, or diabolical virtuoso. Hobson responded to this with full sympathy in all, as well as prodigious energy.

Boston and Berlin at Carnegie in 2015

Carnegie Hall, 1906

The fall 2015 orchestral season at Carnegie Hall was dominated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s traditional three-concert visit, this time in October, and a five-concert traversal of Beethoven’s symphonies by the Berlin Philharmonic under their outgoing principle conductor/artistic director, Simon Rattle. Both had their joys and peculiarities, but only Berlin confronted us with any actual disappointments.

A Crop of Recordings II: Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Schmitt, Magnard, and Beethoven

Conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883 Vevey - 1969 Geneva)

About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.

Ian Hobson – “Preludes, Études, Variations,” Concert 1 of 6: Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Stephen Taylor

Ian Hobson‘s last appearance in New York was an ambitious Brahms cycle in September-October 2013. Extending over six weeks, it offered a comprehensive survey of Brahms’ solo music for piano and his chamber music for piano. I praised this enthusiastically at the time not only for the intelligence and sensitivity of the playing, but for the thoughtful programming, and the outstanding program book, with extensive essays by Paul Griffiths, O.B.E. Just last week, Ian Hobson began an equally ambitious series of six recitals, even more impressively organized, on a more abstract concept, bearing the title “Preludes, Études, Variations,” continuing monthly into April 2016, with this first concert, here reviewed, at Subculture, NYC, as well as the next on December 1. The rest will continue at Merkin Hall on the Upper West Side. This series is entirely solo, accompanied only by Mr. Griffiths’ incisive notes. In addition to 19th- and 20th-century classics of these three musical genres, there are world premieres of new works commissioned by Hobson for the series.

Summer Russians: The San Francisco Symphony
, Edwin Outwater, conductor
 Conrad Tao, piano

Conrad Tao. Photo Ruiming Wang.

There is a special feeling at Davies Hall in summer. The weather is balmy, if we are lucky. The sun is still up as the concert begins. But our hair is let down. Children are present, and young people dot the aisles in remarkable stages of undress. The air of eager informality is like a visit to the movies—minus the smell of popcorn. And, musically speaking, here we sometimes get the chance to hear romantic rarities we secretly love.

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