IN: Reviews

BoCo O Can Electrify


Janice Weber (file photo)
Janice Weber (file photo)

Sunday’s Sander’s concert with the Boston Conservatory Orchestra drew a good and enthusiastic crowd for a vividly colorful and electrifying Spanish enunciation of Alborada del Gracioso by Ravel, and a rarely heard dream piece by one of Les Six, Germaine Tailleferre, her Ballade for piano and orchestra with Janice Weber soloist before Beethoven’s Eroica showed just how big BoCo O can play.

First off, with young musicians filling the stage and ready to go, conductor Bruce Hangen made his way to the front; he and his orchestra all took a bow together. That was a moment right there! Now, one has to wonder why this has not become the norm. Hangen and his young students at the Boston Conservatory delivered an all too rare take on Ravel, one that was at once spine-tingling and something to savor. Their performance found a perfect balance of what is Spanish and what is French. Hangen and orchestra whispered that which was barely audible. And together they punched out powerful exclamations, the kind Ravel’s gifts as both composer and orchestrator musters. The result: complete absorption and total exhilaration!

Hearing Ballade for piano and orchestra on recording was not the same experience as hearing it live. The players and soloist Janice Weber set this listener on an otherworldly journey. What appears on recordings as earthbound became ethereal at Sanders Theater.

The conservatory’s esteemed teacher and pianist Janice Weber selflessly dreamed a purely pianistic loveliness. Where did we go? That was the beauty of it all. The orchestra, too, dreamt, but too outspokenly, often overshadowing Weber’s wonder-filled sense of serenity.

The orchestra continued its impressivity throughout Beethoven’s Third. But it was the opening movement raised the master’s majesty and suspense to such extraordinary heights. The allegro con brio moved briskly along with sweetness in the exchange of the secondary motives. There was the triumphant; the chordal exclamations, though, were a bit too stout.

Marcia funebre felt most real when Hangen and the band let up, as in the major theme and those leaning-on-the-lyrical passages. Sensitiveness on the part of these young musicians was given opportunity to shine, and shine it did, and touchingly so. Drawing the brass in big as they were by their leader, diminished the nobility that really wanted to be felt, not only for its own sake but for the bigger picture. March momentum there was but not always, languorousness would creep in and out.

The Scherzo, usually taken with lightness, the strings, later joined by the winds, would be kept on top of the beat. With Hangen, the staccato motive was decidedly more driven; the playfulness turned to more an act of determination. Something to admire was the horn fanfare, which the Conservatory students handled with near flawlessness. Their bouncy opening exploding at that passage’s high point went too far, in the end making it too strong an announcement, one that became an entity unto itself.

Despite this kind of get-up-and-go, overall, the players held on, once again showing willingness to follow every move of their conductor.

The Finale roared in at high intensity and searing velocity. In and of itself, this Allegro molto opening was a dazing attention-getter, formulated along the lines of those familiar Beethovenian tactics. And what followed showed more the gifts of the aspiring ensemble than a real architecture sustainable over the long haul of the 55-minute symphony. Simply, there was too much localized attention. Beethoven’s striving went missing in the action.

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. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).


3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Germaine Tailleferre is one of my favorite composers so I was thrilled for the opportunity to hear the Ballade. I always love it when a conductor, or a soloist, or just some spokesperson talks to the audience, (you know breaking down that fourth wall), and in the case of Tailleferre, where the general public knows so little about her (little scholarship is available about her in English), it would have been a chance to tell us something about her, and celebrate her life and achievement (which, particularly in light of the personal tragedies she faced, were considerable), and even connect her with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month .
    Although I collect Tailleferre CDs, the Ballade was not a piece I know, and it is really atypical compared with her other works which sparkle with an effervescent brilliance (for instance the Harp Concertino of 1928). The Ballade (from the early 1920s) is indeed dreamy (as Patterson suggests) and also melancholy and introspective. I didn’t find that the orchestra covered the piano, but rather that they interwove, with the soloist’s filigree of arpeggiations sometimes becoming a background accompaniment for lush melodies in other instruments. Soloist Janice Weber was an impeccable virtuoso and also gave warmth to the many lyrical moments. There was also some edgy polytonality and throbbing rhythmic ostinati before a bouncing 5/4 waltz idea was introduced with some playful motivic exchanges. While there was plenty of opportunity for the whole orchestra to contribute to the remarkable pallete of instrumental color, the ending was a gentle one, a return to a dreamy, drifting melancholy.
    Conductor Bruce Hangen and soloist Janice Weber are to be praised for programming this compelling rarity. Weber is an artist of great sensitivity, and it was my second time this year to hear her, the first being a recital at Brandeis with violinist Daniel Stepner, where she not only served as the orchestra in a performance of the first movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, but also set the piano ablaze with her fervent performance of Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel’s Saltarello (for solo piano). So I will definitely keep her in my radar in the future!

    Comment by Liane Curtis — March 8, 2016 at 12:44 pm

  2. OH, and Happy International Women’s Day!! :-)

    Comment by Liane Curtis — March 8, 2016 at 4:59 pm

  3. Assume you saw this:

    Comment by David Moran — March 8, 2016 at 9:23 pm

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