January Internet Concert Going

Recent concerts caught from internet radio/TV had me excited for the year and partnerships ahead and these four in particular were pearls.

François Xavier Roth conducted two programmes at Symphony Hall in Boston with the Boston Symphony which sounds like a band inspired in his hands.  The first on 9 Jan - heard here - was a walk from the classical to the brink of Romanticism (depending on where you draw the line).  It started with a work by Gossec (1734 - 1829)(!) his work of 1809 a Symphony in 17 parts.  It was the first time the BSO had played a piece by Gossec and they did it proud and what a charming work it is. The second work featuring BSO principles was the Mozart (1756 - 1791) Concerto for Flute and Harp (1778) - sweet but not my thing really.  The second half was the third symphony of Beethoven (1770 - 1827) written in 1804/5.  It was a fascinating reading - Roth took the treatment of the score as the basis for a fully liberated classical reading.  There was much that could be questioned, referred back to the score , considered in terms of practice at the time and, analysed and no doubt argued over here.  But it was thrilling to hear a conductor taking such risks with a major orchestra in these conservative times.  Everyone should hear this reading to see what the HIP movement have missed in the search for authenticity.

Moreover looking at the dates above it is surprising that a) Gossec outlived both Mozart and Beethoven despite being older and b) his works are hardly known in the concert hall - never played at the Proms for example. And yet in his time music changed beyond all recognition in purpose, spirit and technical detail. A remarkable time to be alive.

Juanjo Mena took his expertise in Strauss to Copenhagen on 14 January and gave a concert of Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben.  In the Strauss Celebrations of 2014 Mena and the BBC Phil gave us Don Quixote and Also Sprach Zarathustra in Manchester with Steven Isserlis as protagonist in the former, and memorably Eine Alpensinfonie with a combined BBC Phil/Halle orchestra. So I was curious to hear how well the brilliant Danish orchestra radio orchestra performed.  The answer in Don Quixote was that the BBC Philharmonic were on better form.  Though there was nothing wrong with the Danish orchestra - that Rolls-Royce quality of the BBC Philharmonic was superior in virtually every Department - though I think Danish radio made a slightly better job of presentation.  Mena deals with the episodic nature of the earlier tone poem well - somewhat underplaying the effects and centring in on the emotional journey and so the drama keeps moving.

In Ein Heldenleben he similarly found a good balance between Strauss' somewhat indulgent descriptive writing and his urgent need to place his characters in a drama.  There was a wonderful transparency in the way the Battle, the Deeds of Peace and the Critics sections were handled and all clearly pushing but not racing forward.  I enjoyed it hugely and there were insights here which made me wish that some day Mena would commit his thoughts to disc.  The Danish recording was very good too so much so that I found a new easy spaciousness in some of Strauss' writing. The battle was as powerful as ever though.

Gustavo Dudamel tackled Messiaen's brilliant Turangalila Symphony with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela in Luxembourg on 13 January and it was carried by Arte and still available online - at the keyboard was Yuja Wang and Cynthia Miller was on Ondes Martinot.  This is the first hard core orchestra score I'd seen Dudamel conduct and I was very impressed with his style and the reading as a whole.  The players seemed under no strain at all though - technically it was a fine live performance.  Ms Wang made a hugely physical contribution - there's something very arresting about her stage style and strength.  She was not as pointed as Steven Osbourne in the performance I saw earlier this season in Manchester - covered here.  Dudamel didn't bring out much darkness in the reading and yet there was a lightness and timeless quality to some of sth quite woodwind passages.  It's well worth a look if only to see Yuja Wang giving her all and a fine video presentation of those endlessly fascinating work.

Returning to François Xavier Roth's second concert (heard here) we had a variety of works with a French flavour albeit indirectly in some; the Boston Symphony were joined by Renee Fleming.  They gave a revelatory reading of Jeux by Debussy - more colourful than many I have heard and easily paced but with an overall ebb and flow which was more propulsive overall - but not faster (if you see what I mean) - it had momentum.  The Boston players did well as they did in the second item - when joined by Fleming for Dutilleux's Le Temps l'Horage which she had given it's US premiere with this orchestra in 2007 under Levine.  It is a fine piece for her voice and a reminder just how characterful, sensuous and intimate this composer can be.  After the interval she sang three of Cantaloube's Songs of the Auvergne thankfully sandwiching the over-used Bailero between two much more characterful songs.  These were impeccably despatched with style and some rich colouring by Fleming and Roth.

Following this was a Roth party piece Stravinsky's Petrushka in the more exotic 1911 version.  He handles this work so well and his live recording on CD with Les Siecles has been a revelation to me after years of Abbado, Boulez and many others.  In Stravinsky I don't find Roth particularly offering a radical re-reading on the surface.  But as usual he plumbs the depths of the score and finds countless details to explore and entice the listen to hear it afresh all over again.  I think the orchestra relished this and the audience loved it too.

So internet radio has come a long way and it is probably worth me plugging World Concert hall - which operates on Facebook and Twitter to give one alerts for forthcoming concerts - a Godsend!


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