Friday, October 11, 2019

Sibelius, Elgar, and Nielsen at the Boston Symphony

I'm on the east coast for work (really - I work with an engineering team in Cambridge) and the BSO (the real BSO, never mind your Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or Bayerische Staatsoper) has a great program this week. Dima Slobodeniouk, a Russian, is conducting the following very un-Russian program even though Finland was part of Russia for a long time:

  • Sibelius, Pohjola’s Daughter
  • Elgar, Cello Concerto, with Turls Mørk
  • Nielsen, Fifth Symphony
So it was all great: wonderful music and terrific performances. The Sibelius made a good curtain-raiser. The Elgar is gorgeous and interesting and Mørk is a great player. I'd only heard him before in the Salonen Cello Concerto, and I would not dare express an opinion on him based on that; I'm not sure I liked the piece, and it was in the godawful Zellerbach Hall, which has such terrible acoustics that it makes Davies sound like Carnegie Hall. 

Anyway, Mørk was fabulous in this, giving a sensitive and gorgeously phrased performance in extremely beautiful sound. Slobodeniouk was great as well.

And the Nielsen! It is a fabulous and wonderfully quirky piece, which I do realize you can say about, well, anything by Nielsen. Such an individual composer, such energy and spirit. 

I was very impressed with Slobodeniouk's handling of phrasing and the orchestra's sound. That sound was both transparent and warm, which I realize is partly a function of Symphony Hall, but the way Slobodeniouk handled transitions and layers of sound was very, very impressive.

The orchestra sounded better than when I heard it during SFS's centennial year, conducted by Ludovic Morlot, filling in for James Levine, who was out for medical reasons. Their sound in SF was super-impressive, huge and overwhelming, but, as Joshua Kosman mentioned to me, showing real lack of discipline. That was not the case last night, where there were no out-of-place dynamics, but lots of nuance and delicacy. I'd say offhand that SFS has slightly better and more nuanced brass, of all things, for whatever that is worth.

Symphony Hall remains miraculous, with that warm, yet clear sound, its physical beautiful and warmth, and sense of intimacy. I don't remember what the color scheme was when I last was there, but now it's multiple shades of green and multiple shades of tan, with a lot of gold and some cream. I love it so much!

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