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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Concert Review: An Excellent Adventure

Ludovic Morlot conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Ludovic Morlot conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra with pianist Richard Goode.
Photo by Stu Rosner © 2011 The Boston Symphony Orchestra.
On Tuesday night at Symphony Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra offered a program of four works that spanned three centuries and straddled four different genres of concert music. In what has become a pattern in this music director-less season, former BSO assistant Ludovic Morlot (now with the Seattle Symphony) conducted.

The journey began with Berlioz' Roman Carnival overture. Built from the "good parts" of the composer's failed opera Benvenuto Cellini, the work allowed Mr. Morlot to show his conductorial skills. He amassed Berlioz' vast forces, the searching solo for the English horn, chivvying strings and a blaze of brass. Given this performance, a BSO concert performance of the full opera (or at least an act of it) is an interesting idea.

Half the orchestra left, and a piano was moved in for Canadian soloist Richard Goode to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25. Mr. Goode played hunched over the keyboard, his shoulder crooked and his lips moving in time with his fingers as he played. Despite this eccentricity (which recalled the mannerisms of Glenn Gould) the soloist played with limpid, sweet tone, using almost no force with Mozart's solo part.

This made a contrast to the Beethovenian force used in the cadenzas, which were Mr. Goode's own. (Mozart's cadenzas are lost.) These interpolated solos in each of the three movements proved thrilling. Mr. Goode seemed more alert in these passages, moving with alacrity up and down the keyboard and expanding on each movement's musical ideas. 

The clock moved forward to the 21st century as the second half of the program, which focused on modern music. Elliott Carter's Flute Concerto had its U.S. premiere in Feb. 2008 at Symphony, with soloist Elizabeth Rowe. She reprised her performace, playing the challenging solos that explore almost all sonic aspects of the flute--with the exception of Jethro Tull-style flutter-tongueing. 

Carter starts with a simple theme and builds from it, backing the soloist with a proportionately small orchestra. Complicated percussion is also featured, with temple and wood blocks and even a metal pipe joining in. Sliding chords in the strings and angular figures for woodwinds and piano anchor the expressive flute part, alternately playful, mournful and stern.  

The repertory moved to the 20th century as the full orchestra returned to play the Suite from Béla Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin. Despite its quaint-sounding title, this is pretty grim stuff. The Suite covers the first two-thirds of the sordid ballet, the tale of a prostitute, a gang of toughs and a spooky, otherworldly client who just won't die like he's supposed to.

Clarinetist William Hudgins represented the dancing prostitute with agile, eloquent soloing over the chugging strings The four-man BSO trombone section outdid themselves, playing the dark two-note theme of the Mandarin with power and menace. Mr. Morlot led a tautly controlled performance of this famous, jagged score. Like most good performances of the Suite, it left one wanting to hear the whole thing.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.