in: Reviews

October 9, 2013

Bold Romantics with BoCo O

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Sunday afternoon in Sanders Theatre, The Boston Conservatory Orchestra under the baton of Bruce Hangen presented a lengthy concert of music spanning the 19thcentury. The playing was technically accomplished, the readings forceful.

The program opened with Richard Strauss, Don Juan, op. 20 (1888). The stage was crowded with large forces (by my count larger than those named in the program), who combined to give a fluent and highly accomplished reading of this work. The forte passages were thunderous, the drama palpable, as the volume of all the musicians combined to create a music writ large to match the larger-than-life character of Nikolaus Lenau’s poem.

Next the program jumped backward in time to the early Romantic period as reduced orchestral forces presented Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, op. 60 (1806). Small imprecisions here, especially but not exclusively from the brass, detracted from what was otherwise clean and tight. The opening of the Menuetto was covered, so there were periodic balance issues in this performance, which emphasized power over delicacy.

Following intermission, larger orchestral forces returned to the stage and the music returned to the end of the 19th-century for Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, op. 39 (1899). Again, this was a tight and accomplished reading of a substantial work. To my ear the forte moments were more noteworthy. I missed the subtlety and mistiness, the miasmatic misterioso character of Sibelius in this performance.

Bruce Hangen conducted with dramatic and large gestures. On the one hand this befits such large and dramatic music. On the other hand, it may have contributed to a problem with volume levels throughout this concert. I found the dynamics better suited to a larger venue, such as Symphony Hall, and not the smaller-scale Sanders Theatre. Perhaps the whole tended to be louder than intended? In Don Juan there was little tenderness — more Lothario than lover — and no piano dynamics to be heard. Again, as in the Beethoven, the volume was louder and sections were at times not well-balanced. In Sibelius, the musical declamations overwhelmed the tentative intimations. The powerful, bold, and forceful aspects of this music came through readily. To be clear, the playing was never forced. What was lacking, though, was a sense of subtlety, delicacy, tenderness.

In the end, I found this a good concert, and I applaud all involved for that accomplishment. Sadly this could easily have been a great concert, and I regret that The Boston Conservatory Orchestra  with Bruce Hangen did not attain that mark they could so easily have reached.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

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