BRAHMS (7-24-10)

By Lawrence Budmen

Despite a rain swept evening, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concert version of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio on July 23, 2010 at Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed in northwestern Massachsetts, USA was a total delight. Actor Will Lebow provided a witty, modernized narration by Simon Butteriss (commissioned for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) in lieu of the singspiel’s spoken dialog that helped to move the evening along. Originally planned by BSO music director James Levine (with a hand picked cast), the production fell to the young German conductor Johannes Debus after Levine had to withdraw from the entire Tanglewood season to recuperate from back surgery.

Based in Toronto by way of Frankfurt, Debus is a first rate Mozart conductor. Unencumbered by period instrument mannerisms, Debus’ direction of a chamber-sized ensemble was delightfully bubbly and effervescent. Obtaining playing of transparent lightness and warmth and unafraid to add liberal vibrato to Mozart’s classicism, Debus’ direction flowed seamlessly from the robust overture to the martial choral finale. With such lively and stylish musical direction, the three act opera flew by in high spirits.

The first rate cast were all graduates of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, now singing at the Met and with other major opera companies. Soprano Lisette Oropesa took a star turn as Konstanze, the captive Spanish maiden. Oropesa’s clean, sweet, agile coloratura was effortlessly produced up to the highest range. She sailed through the treacherous aria Martern aller Arten as if it were child’s play. As her lover and rescuer Belmonte, tenor Eric Cutler (a Richard Tucker award winner) sang with fearless assurance, superb Mozartean style and clear agility in the tricky high coloratura leaps, particularly in the difficult third act aria (in which more than one fine tenor has come to grief). As the comic evil overseer Osmin, Morris Robinson produced rotund, major league basso singing, the low notes evenly produced and accurate. Robinson’s rich, deep sound heralds a future Wagnerian and Boris Godunov of stature. Ashley Emerson and Anthony Stevenson were vocally attractive as the comic duo of Blonde and Pedrillo. The divine finale of Act II was rendered exquisitely, the voices blending in perfect proportion under Debus’ alternately lithe and eloquent direction. A model concert opera presentation, this Abduction was both sparkling entertainment and Mozart par excellence!

On July 24 Herbert Blomstedt, one of the symphonic world’s senior statesmen, took the BSO podium for an all Brahms program, Due to the illness of originally scheduled soloist Peter Serkin, the Swiss-American pianist Gilles Vonsattel made an impressive debut in the epic Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor. After a somewhat tentative beginning (probably due to nerves), Vonsattel exhibited rock solid technique and imposing digital dexterity wedded to acutely sensitive musicianship. The pianist brought impassioned lyricism in long limbed stasis to the noble Adagio. Vonsattel’s large scale, heaven-storming pianism set the Allegro non troppo finale ablaze. The usually hardened BSO players joined in applauding this gifted musician as the audience rose to its feet in enthusiastic acclamation. Blomstedt’s leisurely tempos fitted Vonsattel’s lyrical impulse.

The wet, humid evening and absence of key principal players reeked havoc with orchestral precision, particularly some blotches in the brass. Nevertheless, the venerable Blomstedt led a broadly paced, expansive account of Brahms’ Symphony No.2 in D Major. From the sunny, song inflected flow of the opening movement to the soaring dark lyrical grace of the Adagio and the earthy vivacity of the Allegretto grazioso, Blomstedt projected the full measure of Brahms’ most gentle, warm hearted symphony, inspiring the strings to glistening richness of sonority. Capping an exultant performance, the conductor fired up the final Allegro con spirito to a joyously vigorous coda.

At the Sunday matinee of July 25 Austrian born Hans Graf proved the perfect exponent of the music of Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss II. In R. Strauss’ Don Quixote, Graf astutely captured the mercurial pictorial moods of the composer’s musical portrait of Cervantes’ protagonist. With the first chair players back in place, Graf conjured up orchestral playing of lustrous beauty, always vigorously articulated. Lynn Harrell’s dark, mellow cello put a gentle spin on the eccentric hero, the finale turning to pathos through Harrell’s depth of feeling and marvelous instrumental command. Steven Ansell’s deft and zesty viola characterized the servant Sancho Panza with charm and verve.

The second half of the concert was New Year’s in July with Graf leading the waltzes and polkas of the waltz king Johann Strauss to the manor borne. The conductor’s delightful Viennese hesitations of phrase and silkily spun elegance were well nigh perfect in this repertoire.. Graf turned the BSO strings into the warm timbres of the Vienna Philharmonic in full glory. Roses from the South never sounded more aristocratic and irresistible! The polkas whizzed with the cork bursts of high octane champagne. A final encore produced a rousing Radetzky March with the audience clapping along in fun filled delight.

On July 30, 2010 Charles Dutoit leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture, excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with Gilmore Award winner Kirill Gerstein at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, USA. Juanjo Mena conducts Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Strauss’ Four Last Songs (with soprano Hei-Kyung Hong) and Mahler’s Symphony No.4 on July 31. On August 1 Dutoit directs Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, the Moussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at An Exhibition and Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma.. On August 1, 2 and 4th the Tanglewood Vocal Fellows and Music Center Orchestra present Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Ira Siff, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi (August 1 and 2) and Keitaro Harada (August 4). For information, see www.bso.org




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