in: Reviews

July 21, 2014

Gratitude for BSO, Nelsons, Bell

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Joshua Bell and Andris Nelsons with BSO Sunday (Hilary Scott photo)

Joshua Bell and Andris Nelsons with BSO Sunday (Hilary Scott photo)

The menu for Sunday afternoon’s Shed concert would provoke me to grumble if I were encountering it in November. Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole and the Beethoven Fifth, with a “safe” modern work, another Christopher Rouse one-word-for-a-title opener did not offer any challenges to the listener. However, at Tanglewood in July, on a see-almost-forever clear day, with the incoming music director on the podium to provide hope, it felt like a day to be simply grateful: grateful for the fact that Boston has a world-class orchestra; grateful that we have signs of encouraging new leadership; and grateful for the luxury of seeing soloists like Joshua Bell in midsummer.

Rouse wrote Rapture in 2000 and described it as “the most unabashedly tonal music” he has composed. Mostly he succeeds in making new the resources of consonance to create an emotion of immersive, profound happiness. As it was played by the orchestra dressed entirely in white, the men in white jackets, I had a vision of the heavenly orchestra that backed the young Frank Sinatra in As The Clouds Roll By, but playing this higher-brow repertoire. As the Rapture drove towards its resolution I found Rouse’s vision of rapture to be rather louder than my own, and involving much more timpani.

Joshua Bell’s Lalo was as passionate as you might expect, effortless and effortful in perfect measure. He even managed to turn his good looks into a self-deprecating moment of humor, as he dealt with recalcitrant hair after the first movement. In both the Rouse and the Lalo, the energy and color Nelsons and the orchestra had brought to the previous evening’s Tchaikovsky appeared in new guises, but always alive and vivid.

And then, there’s the Fifth. For all of its overexposure and my caviling about how it shows up everywhere, I find that what Woody Allen said about orgasms applies to the Fifth – “even my worst one was right on the money” – and this was a pretty good one. None of the reservations that came to mind during Saturday’s Brahms troubled me, and in Nelsons’ hands the symphony was closely argued and wound just tightly enough. If you want more details… well, Nelsons favored a short initial fermata; did an excellent job bringing out the three-note motive in the finale in the bass; often beat quite lightly, or not at all, trusting the orchestra to keep itself going; conducted a number of passages on one foot, looking pleasantly tipsy doing so; and left both feet a number of times, but never to distraction. The orchestra and conductor earned the loudest and most prolonged applause of the weekend at its conclusion, and we were able to walk out into the sunny afternoon encouraged by the prospects for the future.

Brian Schuth graduated from Harvard with a Philosophy degree, so in lieu of a normal career he has been a clarinetist, theater director and software engineer. He currently resides in Boston after spending the last 15 years in Eastport, Maine.

3 Comments

  1. Lots of visuals, not enough audibles: Did he play repeats in the Beethoven? What were the tempos? etc.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — July 23, 2014 at 8:58 am

  2. From listening on the radio, they definitely did the 4th mvt repeat, so I’d assume they did the 1st mvt one as well, though I came in just before the Development. (For my tastes, taking the 1st mvt repeat is a no-brainer; the 4th mvt repeat doesn’t make as much sense to me.) Tempos struck me as sluggish and maybe even willful; the music lacked drive too often, and the 3rd mvt trio lacked giddiness. Too much interference and interpretation? I’m sure someone else would just say the tempos were middle-of-the-road, allowing for the music to breathe or something, but it’s Beethoven’s 5th! Whatever Woody Allen may have thought, this surely isn’t meant to be Tantric Beethoven.

    Comment by zarlino — July 23, 2014 at 9:23 am

  3. I too thought the Fifth on the slow and unzippy side, without being genuinely sluggish (imo), just tending to the stodgy and square even if exciting.

    Also alas while he did not quite do the opening as wrongly bald 1-2-3-FOUR, he also did not do it as the proper, rare, headlong and hurtling *[breath]-and-2-and-ONE*.

    So I remain concerned about his rhythmic senses. I just want the guy to be as thoughtful and informed as, you know, Honeck and Gilbert.

    Comment by David Moran — July 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm

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