in: Reviews

July 8, 2014

TMC Orchestra Blazes in Hindemith and Bruckner

by

Stefan Asbury {file photo)

Stefan Asbury {file photo)

The Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra delivered fiery performances of substantial works to the full Ozawa Hall crowd. Karine Canellakis, Stefan Asbury, and all the Fellows are to be commended on an intense, exciting concert on Sunday night.

The concert began on a sad note: Asbury announced the death of Koussevitzky-appointed BSO hornist Harry Shapiro, 1914-2014. He played with the Symphony for 39 years, retiring in 1992 but remaining a local musical fixture as personnel manager for the Opera Company of Boston and Boston Ballet orchestras and inimitable ingenium loci for the TMC Orchestra (manager, coach, performance career adviser). Asbury shared memories and dedicated the concert to the centenarian.

Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943) was the first half of the program, Canellakis conducting. In four movements this 22-minute work calls for the larger forces of a Romantic-era orchestra, amplified by full battery of percussion, with bass instruments added in the winds, and (ideally) large string sections. The Tanglewood Fellows amassed (and crowded the stage), so that need was amply met. The opening Allegro impressed me from the beginning: within the undeniable wall of sound, the multiple voices and phrases remained clear and distinct—even moreso than on the historic recording by Hindemith himself conducting. The second movement, Turandot: Scherzo, featured a lovely and resonant flute solo at the opening (kudos to Johanna Gruskin), although the variations on the theme seemed fast to me, with the brass becoming a touch muddy. The fugato section was a thrill as all rose to the challenge of keeping ensemble tight and expressive no matter the tempo. In the Andantino there was gentleness along with powerful messa di voce dynamics executed with gusto. The concluding March presented a persistently present, jaunty rhythm without overwhelming the rest of the music. Anthony Delivanis delivered a moving rendition of the horn solo here. Currently a TMC Conducting Fellow and recently appointed assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony, Canellakis did an outstanding job balancing the large number of musicians assembled for this performance, maintaining clear direction and a sense of the work as a whole.

Following intermission, Asbury took the podium to lead the orchestra in Anton Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony, No. 4 (1881). Running some 80 minutes, it is a monster of a work. I once was conversing with someone not a fan of Bruckner, and said, “You need to give it time,” and of course the tart reply was, “That’s all Bruckner is: time.” I do not dispute this composer’s propensity to expound at length, also pontificate. I like the piece and have enjoyed performing in and listening to it. I believe Asbury led a performance of the 1888 revised form of this work (the revision history of the composition is complex, with seven states extant to varying degrees and a long history of editors having a field day with what they have found, not to mention the Mahler reorchestration). I am more familiar with the 1881 version, and the finale was different from what I remember. I prefer the earlier form; this 1888 finale sounds more pedantic and keener to assault the listener with its notions of finality. The revision is longer, too, so that would be an immediate demerit for some. The 1881 version is more reserved in its teleology—which fits with its nebulous beginning of tremolo strings (a recurring feature of Bruckner’s musical language).

Karina Canellakis (file photo)

Karina Canellakis (file photo)

Quibbles over editions aside, what a performance it was! The orchestra never wavered nor flagged in their devotion and commitment to this powerful music. The opening horn solo, performed by Sarah Sutherland, set the stage for the emotional journey which this symphony encodes. Beyond this I have little to say about the performance: I found it gripping, riveting, a joy to hear. Asbury did a great job leading the ensemble, maintaining forward motion and not allowing the tempo to lag, nor the melodic material to wallow (always a challenge with Bruckner). Although I might prefer the 1881 version of this work, I heard a lot of fabulous musicmaking and a compelling argument made for this state of the symphony being offered in concert halls.

Go, hear the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra this season. It promises to be well worth the trip.

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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