in: Reviews

April 18, 2009

BSO Guest Artist Substitutions Keep Program of Beethoven, Mahler

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Julianne Banse performs Mahler 4 with Mark Wigglesworth conducting the BSO (Michael J. Lutch)

Newcomer guest artists to the BSO highlighted a program taken up with the concerto and symphony, two of classical music’s most revered and fruitful creations. Isabelle Faust, Juliane Banse and Mark Wigglesworth joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Violin Concerto in D Major by Beethoven and Symphony No. 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler, both of these enormous works receiving performances in an open dress rehearsal and concerts this week at Symphony Hall. The final concert in Saturday, April 19.

Conductor Yuri Temirkanov and violinist Julia Fisher had withdrawn as the originally scheduled guest artists for this concert. The BSO program read that Temirkanov “has cancelled all of his United States engagements for this period” and “Isabelle Faust was available at short notice to replace Julia Fisher, who has withdrawn for personal reasons.”

The heralding of the newcomers stood in contrast to news heard earlier in the day of the BSO’s having to forgo its tour of Italy and France next year due to the grim economic conditions that so much of the world continues to experience.

As for Mahler and the rest of us, music, thankfully, allows escape from weltlich Getümmel or “worldly tumult”. In her Boston debut, soprano Juliane Banse captured such sentiment in Mahler’s far-flying symphony. Taking her cue from the composer’s score she sang Life in Heaven “with childlike cheerful expression.”

Hers is a voice that really means something as it changes color, vibrato, strength and emotion, always maneuvering adroitly around text and melody. Banses’s tapestry-like red attire and openly generous smile previewed her “childlike” probe of Mahler’s own inimitable voice.

Unfortunately, Wigglesworth allowed the orchestra to overpower her voice up to the closing section where sublime singing and playing emerged. Strangely, the last note of the symphony, a very low sound written for the basses, was virtually inaudible.

Throughout a good part of the symphony an imbalance of orchestral sound loomed, brass over winds, winds over strings-and at certain instances, solo blasts seemed inspired by Heavy Metal decibel levels. Too often, Mahler’s keen multitasking passages were turned into faint blocks of sound.

There were a good number of exceptions to this, however. In the second movement, Wigglesworth and the BSO caused layers of music to chatter at the same time, each musical line made clear, all the while putting across supple dance moves in the Viennese vein. “Pretty easygoing,” the general instruction Mahler etched in the opening movement, became “pretty serious going” in this uneven interpretation. Overall, those Mahlerian waves of emotion headed the music heavenward; but with too little poking fun, Mahler’s life in heaven became less than replete.

Violinist Isabelle Faust took us inside of Beethoven’s clearly contoured concerto. Hers is a firm, virtuosic sound that keeps the mind intrigued, the ear astonished and the heart content. Faust’s choice of cadenza for the first movement, a version of the one written by Beethoven that includes a tympani part, and her decision not to end the second movement with a cadenza but rather start up the third movement with several “false starts” lent still more veracity to her performance of this immense composition.

For both Faust and Banse, music of the 20th century has made its way significantly into their repertoire. To what degree, if any, has their experience with a newer music informed their visions of an older music, say that of Beethoven and Mahler, heard on this concert? Faust, Banse and Wigglesworth each brought something new to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. Programing the Beethoven concerto and Mahler symphony, together, also deserves a round of applause.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

2 Comments

  1. My impression of the performance was excellent. I feel this is particularly so in view of the fact that both the conductor and the soloist stepped in at the last moment, neither with enough time to rehearse. I admired them both for taking on such a monumental task! The violin concerto was wonderful with truly sparkling and tender moments.
    An orchestra such as BSO could have played better, and perform with the technical capabilities all members possess. Many fine moments were fumbled by individual players. Indeed: the bass section missed one of its glorious moments!
    It is clear that Wigglesworth has great musical talent and exceptional capabilities in leadership. I feel he has knowledge and understanding of Mahler in particular. I hope he returns, and under more favorable circumstances!

    Comment by Marianne Kuiper — April 27, 2009 at 4:25 pm

  2. I agree to Ms. Kuiper’s comments about the second part of the concert. Wiggdlesworth kwows about Mahler very well and conducted the Fourth Symphony quite sympathetically. The BSO followed his conducts and conmtributed to express Mahler’s insight. I think that Wigglesworth succeeded to express Mahler’s intention of the Symphony. However, I never appreciate his conducts of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Faust was not symphasized with Wigglesworth’s conduct. They even didn’t have any eye contact. I must say that Wigglesworth didn’t prepare for Beethoven’s violin Concerto and his interpretation on the Concerto was superficially.

    Comment by S. K. — May 10, 2009 at 2:43 am

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