Wagnerites, perfect and less so, hie thee to Symphony Hall today and Saturday! There you will witness a superb concert of excerpts from Die Meistersinger, the likes of which one rarely encounters, so high was the level of execution on the part of all parties on stage on Thursday, November 3rd.
Mustering with élan, heartfelt musicianship and full authority the considerable forces before him on Symphony Hall’s extended stage was the BSO’s favorite visiting maestro Raphael Frühbeck de Burgos, whose leadership over the past two weeks only further cements the notion that this man belongs in Boston on a more permanent basis than present. The sound of the orchestra was startlingly European – rich, round, full, not a trace of harshness, beautifully blended, strikingly colored and textured. The large assemblage of singers in John Oliver’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus was precise in tuning, rich in timbre, marvelously uplifting and thrilling when singing forte or more, moving and heart-touching when quietly reverent. James Morris, bass-baritone — one of the world’s leading interpreters of Wotan in Wagner’s ring cycle in opera houses world-wide — imbued his reading of Hans Sachs with subtlety and nobility. Clearly suffering from some kind of vocal stress, by evening’s end he was struggling to maintain his high notes, though not one whit of his characterization was wanting. Singing from the rear of the stage, tenor Matthew DiBattista was a bright and soulful David. And TFC member Cindy M. Vredeveld triumphed with brilliant tone in her brief but memorable appearance as Magdalene.
Conducting from memory, Frühbeck de Burgos opened his concert with delectable Haydn: the rarely-encountered Symphony No. 1 in D (1757 or 1759), complete with keyboard continuo elegantly played by John Finney, and the familiar Symphony No. 100 in G, “Military,” conducted at its 1794 premiere in London by the composer to great acclaim, so much so that he was obliged to repeat the work a week later. The non-pareil playing of the BSO in this music — so elegant the strings, so characterful the winds, so integrated the percussion —reflected the taste and informed professionalism with which Frühbeck led, betraying only a bit of “old-fashionedness” in today’s early-music informed milieu with his slowed cadences at the end of movements. However, those cadences were without exception played perfectly together, with no hint of indecision or raggedness. It was heartening to observe the smiles among the first violins as the music progressed. How could one not smile? Old-fashioned or not, give us more Haydn of this elevated sort, please!
Remarkable the ease with which Maestro Frühbeck moved from this elegant Haydn to the considerably different stylistic demands of Wagner! From the familiar rich chords and vigorous counterpoint which imbue the Meistersinger Prelude to the dramatically startling organ-enriched entrance of the chorus embodying the congregation of Nürnberg’s St. Catherine’s Church, it was immediately evident that this was to be a memorable Symphony Hall occasion. I mention Symphony Hall, because it too played a significant role in the evening’s many felicities, just as it had least week when Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos led his vivid reading of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. While it is not new news to any concertgoers that Symphony Hall is one of the great edifices in which to hear music, the truth of this was brought home to me all the more forcefully these past two weeks. I had attended Colin Davis’s extraordinary London Symphony Orchestra concert of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in New York’s several-times- rebuilt Avery Fisher Hall only a couple of weeks ago, and I was reminded there, when presented with its overly bright and quite unreverberant acoustic, of how fortunate we are to hear music in Symphony Hall, whose peerless acoustics enhance any performance within its walls. And then, of course, we have the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which too rarely plays Wagner these days. This is a GREAT Wagner orchestra – one of the finest exponents of that composer’s many instrumental demands, memorable whenever it plays his music. James Levine knew this; I remember his thrilling complete Dutchman several seasons ago. And so did Colin Davis; his searing Ring excerpts many years back still resound in memory.
But enough of history. May I once again urge listeners of the present to go to Symphony Hall and hear one of this season’s surely-to-be-most memorable BSO concerts? The Meistersinger excerpts went from strength to strength. Those familiar only with the famous Overture will be bowled over by the ongoing richness of invention in this remarkable opera. Those who know this work well will be gratified to hear this remarkable score played with such panache in such a noble interpretation.
I had written earlier the following in response to Tom Delbanco’s BMInt review of Frühbeck’s Schumann/Strauss concert last week:
“…Last night RFdeB and the BSO outdid themselves. The brass, and especially the orchestra’s immensely gifted concertmaster Malcolm Lowe were at they very top of their game. But, so was everyone on stage last night – the woodwinds, the percussion, and the BSO’s fabulous strings – what a night they all had. While it may be heretical to some, why doesn’t the BSO just go ahead and sign up this world-class conductor right now? The orchestra ALWAYS plays beautifully for him, his repertoire is vast and deep, his high-minded approach to music-making is unimpeachable. He is a true old-world musician steeped in authentic tradition, something that is increasingly rare. He’s not a hot-shot young man, it’s true, but he conducts with great energy and love every time he mounts the Symphony Hall podium. His rapport with soloists is a joy to observe – the give-and-take last night between him and Gidon Kremer was obvious and salutary. RFdeB’s regular visits to Boston and Tanglewood have been consistently rewarding. If he isn’t interested in being considered for Music Director, which would be understandable, I surely hope the BSO Management would offer him a Laureate position such as has been bestowed on our other great world-class visitor Bernard Haitink. Whatever happens, we should be sure that Boston remains a welcome home away from home for him.”
Enough said. Don’t miss this week’s Haydn/Wagner BSO concert!