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Bronfman and BSO Mount Chefs-d’œuvre

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Kousevitsky studies Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, score in 1944

Continuing with his miniature homecoming of sorts, Andris Nelsons joined with global star Yefim Bronfman in an endarkened Mozart C Minor Piano Concerto. Last night, the BSO also tackled orchestral treasures of Bartók and Ravel, all entries well-loved by Symphony Hall audiences. Yet the Thursday evening concert appeared not to be completely sold-out, and, curiously, some even left early. 

In a surprising opening role, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, a BSO commission and a 1944 premiere, found its 2020 recasting, this, after the mainstay’s many-a-many iterations over the years. Not everyone, though, bought into Nelsons interpretation. Concerto and counterpoint overwhelmed atmosphere and character. The deep basses barely haunted the score’s beginning, though they did luxuriously summon it up. One by one, flute, oboe, English Horn, and clarinet appeared, each displaying timbral resplendence. Perhaps Elizabeth Rowe made the most of taking a step out into something of a stealthy nature. The first pounded strokes of the tympani also seemed promising, terrifying as they were. In a different direction, the brasses formalized their entry, while the strings would fix upon instrumental clarity.

For the second movement, “The Game of Pairs,” Nelsons engendered zippiness barely allowing anything teasing or menacing. In the forefront, a refined orchestral quest would make for sonic interest. “The Elegia takes us into Bartók’s private world, with memories of his favorite ‘night music.’” (Hugh MacDonald). For this recasting, private might well be the operative word as Nelsons and the BSO mostly obscured any “atmosphere of mystery and expectation.”

This BSO recast of “Interrupted Intermezzo” took on a certain air of academic chiseling prevalent in previous movements. The Shostakovich Seventh Symphony quotation finally broke institutional ice. And the finale’s fugal passage rose to Bartókian mockery. If Bartók’s voice went largely uncovered, Nelsons revealed more than usual of the composer’s deft craft, offering insights into composition.

The seasoned Soviet-born Israeli-American Yefim Bronfman picked up on BSO’s seasonal interest in the piano concertos of Mozart with No. 24 in C Minor, K.491. Bronfman’s first notes took to childlike simplicity, and, for the first time during the evening, music spoke to the heart. Right after, with an astonishing turn to complex articulation, darkness set in, and with that, sadness, too. Arpeggios and scales, those major constituents of Classical-era concertos, transcended mere virtuosity under Bronfman’s fingers. Drama, as elusive as it was, could be detected in these fast and fluid ascents and descents. A remarkable tenderness often surfaced.

Consolation and, again, that fetching simplicity from Bronfman confirmed his approach to this Mozart Larghetto. Those prominent woodwind passages alternating with the piano played into their own BSO world, an intriguing contrast. Bronfman’s nuancing throughout the variations of the final movement required full attention as he delved further into the soul. Mozart’s theme of darkness fits this concerto into the evening’s programmatic sense.

What did not make sense was the slight yet noticeable flight of concertgoers. Then, orchestra members returned but without the expected chorus. With the concert itself starting a bit on the late side, and with the intermission running a full 25 minutes, Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2 began at 9:57.

“…but his primary purpose was to convey action and atmosphere. The score closely describes the stage action, which must be largely be missed…” (MacDonald), as would be, apparently the wordless chorus, which had been in evidence when the BSO presented the complete version at Tanglewood last summer [BMInt review HERE].

Nelsons plainly conveyed action, while nodding but rarely to atmosphere. I heard no birds singing in “Daybreak.” For Dance Générale Nelsons advanced extreme franticness and rigidness. Tamara Smirnova’s violin solo captured Ravel with true intimacy. A brief spell arose from a trio of flutes trilling meticulously, miraculously. Throughout, the orchestra showed it prowess.

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).  www.notescape.net

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

  1. A crowd left early also on Friday. Perhaps the Ravel seemed an anticlimax, or their shuttles are
    booked for 3:30.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — January 31, 2020 at 5:04 pm

  2. Some concertgoers come for the famous soloist and leave thereafter. I’ve seen that many times, also decades ago, also in Europe.

    Comment by Petros Linardos — February 2, 2020 at 10:05 am

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