in: Reviews

October 29, 2009

BSO and Kuerti Leap to Heights of Sight and Sound

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The Beethoven Symphony Cycle at Symphony Hall continued on October 27 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing the third and fourth symphonies under the direction of the young Canadian, Julian Kuerti, now in his third season as assistant conductor.

His every move, without exaggeration, could be seen and heard as springing energy. In one case, a crescendo headed purposefully toward a climactic point suddenly erupted, peaking almost prematurely from much pent-up emotion. The entire symphony jumped with joy in a physics-orientation through Kuerti and the BSO. [Click title for full review.]

The Beethoven Symphony Cycle at Symphony Hall continued on Tuesday, October 27, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Program 2 performing the third and fourth symphonies under the direction of the young Canadian, Julian Kuerti, now in his third season as assistant conductor. (He was asked a few weeks ago to fill in for the ailing Music Director James Levine.) And, once again, I decided to relegate all previous Beethoven experiences to the back of my mind, and, as I said in my writing about Program 1, to pretend, as much as I could, to be hearing this music for the very first time. (“BSO’s Beethoven Symphony Cycle Begins with Mixed Results,” October 24.)

Coincidentally, between the last program and this one, I read Jan Swafford’s BSO writing about the Eroica: “Call the narrative of the epic first movement something in the image of a battle or a military campaign…”  But in Beethoven by Berlioz the huge Beethoven admirer wrote, “The title indicates we will find neither battles nor triumphal marches as many might infer from its mutilated form, but grave and profound thoughts…I know of no other example …wherein grief is so able to sustain itself consistently in forms of such purity and nobility of expression.”

Last night was my first opportunity to hear Kuerti. There were already hints that lay ahead of his conducting in is walk jaunty gait to the podium for the concert opener, the Fourth Symphony. His every move, without exaggeration, could be seen and heard as springing energy, this from the very first sustained harmonies marked pianissimo of the Fourth to the final proclamations marked fortissimo of the Third.

There were mid-air downbeats, yes, but most moves came from shoulders raised, chest expanded with air, elbows lifted like a pair of wings, arms stretched skyward, and, at times, heels in the air, the body elevated on tiptoes. Notes you think deserve a solid driving motion earthward, a strong, powerful downbeat for, say, a Beethovenian power chord, even these met with resilience.

A continual spiraling and recoiling from Kuerti and the BSO made the Fourth Symphony come completely alive. While writing about this concert, it occurs to me that the crescendo, a fairly new device in Beethoven’s day (and always around in this giant’s music), took “lessons” from Kuerti who, I learn, completed an honors degree in engineering and physics at the University of Toronto. A vast range of energy and trajectory came into play, empowering the music in a way that is not easy to describe. In one such case, a crescendo headed purposefully toward a climactic point, suddenly erupted, peaking almost prematurely from much pent-up emotion. The entire symphony jumped with joy in a physics-orientation through Kuerti and the BSO.

Lightness throughout the first movement of the Third Symphony created the perfect foil for the Funeral March, which never felt slow and plodding. Rather, it felt as though you were breathing in every moment of melancholy, grief—even that dark sense, which is dread—that we had to endure then realize what we had been through, as we came out into brighter orchestral climes.

The Scherzo rustled in like leaves, light breezes whistling, and hunting horns bursting out and as quickly vanishing. The Finale at first settled only temporarily into Beethoven’s game-playing and silliness characterized by punched out sudden start-ups and halting cadences. For the most part of this movement, though, Beethoven took to bounding all around, thickening further an already complex plot, all of this made clear via this alert and dead-on virtuosic performance.

It was thrilling to witness how the Boston Symphony Orchestra was so fully engaged in this tour-de-force with Kuerti. They responded to his conducting, springing, along with him, to heights of sight and sound, the kind of which come like gifts, surprises—the most wonderful, the least expected.

Lorin Maazel conducts the BSO in the Sixth and Seventh symphonies on October 30 and 31, and the Eighth and Ninth on November 6 and 7.

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.

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