in: Reviews

February 1, 2013

On Skride and Nelsons with BSO

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Baibe Skride and Andris Nelsons (Stu Rosner photo)

Baibe Skride and Andris Nelsons (Stu Rosner photo)

Boston’s first live look at a newcomer on the international circuit, Baiba Skride, could be described as nothing less—and maybe something much more—than a brilliant debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night. The young Latvian violinist brought some enthusiasts instantaneously to their feet upon the final punch of the keynote A ending Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Others quickly followed, as high spirits took over Symphony Hall, encouraging a somewhat surprised Skride back on stage. With the ovation suddenly hushed and harmonies of muted approval rippling about the virtually full house, Baiba Skride rested her violin under her chin and began the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004.

Resuming a kind of “call and response,” the audience answered with soft ohs and oohs, then an immediate outpouring of staccato hand clapping. More buzz, all over Skride, bubbled up throughout intermission. It was a program of two mighty Russian works, one running the better part of three quarters of an hour, and the other nearly a full hour. It was also an evening featuring two Latvians, and to boot, both soloist and conductor were born in Riga. Both would call this a musical collaboration, so it is not merely by coincidence that these two Riga natives were on stage together. Still quite new to us, having appeared only twice last year with the BSO (one of these at Tanglewood), Andris Nelsons led the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, a favorite of many symphony regulars who, judging by their boisterous response, were not in the very least disappointed by the young Latvian.

Undertones of Skride and Nelsons caught hold of Shostakovich’s long opening movement entitled “Nocturne” and would not let go. Her bow told us much about the ghostliness and ephemeral of night-times by moving in varying degrees toward and away from the fingerboard, while her fingers tuned to this and that note, now singing, now sighing. A few times from her adept fingers came a slight slide between two notes as if a tiny tear had fallen down her cheek. On the podium, with an imposing physique, Nelsons, hunched over almost to the very top of his music stand, signaled evanescent pianissimos and transitory hues from an ever so finely blended BSO. Superlative sound and sagacity opened my ears into compleat receptors.

With the Scherzo underway, I began sensing a separation from feelings, perhaps a result of the clashing moods of these two adjacent movements. Further in, the more complex reflective Passacaglia paired with a Burlesque created a similar leave-taking. But there was more, Skride’s violin and Nelsons’s directing, for me, increasingly externalized the linear webs craftily spun by the prolific Shostakovich. Inner fire, or tension as many have defined one of Shostakovich’s favored emotional states, diminished. Nevertheless, stunning in its sheer surface, this brilliant performance commanded undivided attention and resolute appreciation. I also thought that Skride, deciding more and more on a biting bow, was wearing.

What transpired in the concerto essentially played out in the symphony. Nelsons’s crispy clean calculations stirred admiration for his smartly turning a phrase, one such, so splendidly phrased was the Valse’s first theme. Many of Tchaikovsky’s many melodies were to receive the conductor’s ever-so-close attention to the smallest details. Noticeable too, though, were the little solos, such as the bassoon’s in the Valse that was articulated smoothly, evenly, if not a bit blandly (it is usually jaunty).

Orchestral transparency, on the one hand, was as optimal as to be imagined; but on the other, spontaneity appeared to have been sacrificed to attain other symphonic ideals in vogue these days.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net

8 Comments

  1. Nothing about the French Horn? My goodness. Where were you during that amazing ioeing phrase?

    Comment by Leslie — February 2, 2013 at 6:45 am

  2. Well, we got no encore on Friday. But this VC is such a moving,even overwhelming, work that it was received so well was testimony to the strong performance and the work itself. I would have been much happier with a 20th century work on the second half of the program finding T5 incongruous but it was played to a boisterous T. (bad pun?) and Judy S. loved it.

    Comment by morty schnee — February 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

  3. It was an evening of missing expectations for me on Saturday. I went to hear Nelsons conducting T5, or let me to rephrase: to hear how BSO brass will screw up a new conductor during the Tchaikovsky. I less cared about Shostakovich VC 1 as I do not particularly like it. The real events defy my expectations.

    In the Skride/Nelson’s hands the typically-disgusting Shostakovich concerto was super intriguing. Baiba Skride demonstrated superior “seriousness” even during the most barbaric Shostakovich’s expressions (like the whole second movement). The Nocturne in the Skride’s hands turned out to be absolutely magical piece of art and the BSO cared truly beautiful support. Despite my dislike the work it was wonderful experience and Skride/Nelson/BSO trio left very very positive impression. There was no encore; I guess the cold Boston weather had to do something with it. BTW, here are my compliment to David Patterson’s review as he was talking about Shostakovich and did not mention Stalin – a big accomplishment for an America music reviewing.

    The Tchaikovsky was totally deferent matter. With minor exception of high-pitched woodwinds who sometime played overly loud (at least at our sits: H row, center) the BSO played very beautifuly. It was very good Tchaikovsky interpretation with truly wonderful sound. However, something did not click for me. I was sitting in there and feeling that I have heard it before, that I do not “get” anything new and that I kind of bored. It was not the Nelson/BSO fault but rather my feeling that to play Tchaikovsky this way is not very stimulating as it was played like this many times before and the fact that BSO’s sound did not fall apart was NOT ENOUGH for me to feel that the event was “something special”. The last movement was as usually slower than it has to be – chickens! I think if today’s orchestras schedule to play T5 as frequently as they look like do then they need to find new stimulating ways to interpret and to play it. Otherwise I doubt that I would go for another T5 next season.

    Everybody say that Andris Nelsons might be a next BSO leader. Probably it would be a good move for BSO. BSO did show itself as a good well-oiled machine in Mr. Nelsons hands. At this point however, I do not know if it was Andris Nelsons’ accomplishment. BSO did played very well all January and sonically the orchestra now in a good shape. Nelsons setting of Shostakovich concerto was very smart and his interpretation of Tchaikovsky was wonderful. His control over the Tchaikovsky’s texture was nothing short of perfect but… there is something else. T5 is kind of a simple work with BSO players are able to play it well on autopilot, even if they seldom do. It appeared to me that BSO section leaders did not pay too much attention to the Nelsons’ exuberant articulation and the good play for orchestra was kind of detached from the excessive animation of the conductor. I do not know how much of the good play was set by during rehearsals but if it was then I would like to see less aggressive “conductor working” during the performance. Perhaps I was sitting too close but I did cough a feeling that by closing my eyes I do have better auditable experience all together.

    Some, aspect of the Nelsons’ animation I felt were destructive. For instance Nelsons has a tendency to jump in air during dynamic heights. That would guide orchestra well during some Mahler but it absolutely not appropriate during Tchaikovsky 5. In Tchaikovsky the dynamic peaks has to be “developed” and orchestra has to gradually ride into them. Nelsons’ BSO did not do it and the dynamic peaks were “screamed” instead of “developed”. I attribute it to Mr. Nelsons’ inability to confront gravity during his jumps. If he was able to gradually leap to the air and gradually descend than BSO would demonstrate more interesting Tchaikovsky’s dynamics build up. The said above does not comply too much with my observation that BSO players did not pay attention to Andris Nelsons too much. It needs to be said my Kitten disagreed with me and she, listening the concert, find that BSO did interact with Nelsons fine. In the end of the day her argument was very powerful: she asked if I felt that the orchestra was miss-coordinated. I said that it wasn’t. “Then shut ups” – she said. Well, she got the point….

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

  4. WOW. I confess that hearing Romy say something good about Shostakovich is thrilling…

    Comment by Ashley — February 3, 2013 at 11:50 am

  5. Bravo Kitten!

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — February 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm

  6. Mostly, I think T5 was well played on Thursday evening.

    In the 2nd movement, after the crushing ‘fate’ motiv by the brass section, all the wood winds were in disarray. True, Tchaikovsky certainly felt helplessly lost. But the orchestration of all the sections should be still together, under the direction of the conductor. As a result, the repeat of the string theme towards the end of the movement was not convincinglly connected logically( and emotionally).

    3rd movement had similar problem.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

  7. No encore on tuesday either.She had a coughing spell just before the start of the 3rd movement.She was a good sport to be there period.

    Comment by Gilles Charroy — February 6, 2013 at 8:44 am

  8. Yep, the same had happened on Saturday. She did not look healthy, did some coughing. Furthermore when she dropped the violin’s shoulder rests between the movements she was kind of liturgical to pick it up and her body language was as she did not want to be there. Her play however did not reflect it and she was very engaged and very available. If she was sick that week than it only more credit to her as she did make a very good performance.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm

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