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Boston Symphony Orchestra Bring Life to Strauss, Liszt, & More

Andris Nelson, photo by Chris Lee
A terrific season at Carnegie Hall continued magnificently on the evenings of Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19th and 20th, with two concerts given by the superb musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The first program—under the outstanding direction of Andris Nelsons—was devoted to music by Richard Strauss, with the first half featuring music from his underrated final opera, Capriccio, beginning with the beautiful Sextet for Strings which serves as the work’s overture. The excellent players included Tamara Smirnova and Haldan Martinson on violins, Steven Ansell and Cathy Basrak on violas, and Blaise Déjardin and Adam Esbensen on cellos. The sumptuous texture here prefigures that of the even more lush Metamorphosen for string orchestra that the composer completed a few years later.
The fabulous soprano Renée Fleming, who looked especially glamorous, then took the stage for an extraordinary rendition of the lovely Moonlight Music and Closing Scene, sounding less underpowered than she has in several of her most recent appearances in New York. The singer is one of the finest Strauss interpreters and her performance in this work at the Metropolitan Opera just a few years ago made that modernized production one of the most satisfying I’ve ever seen. As a tribute to the eminent conductor, composer, and pianist, André Previn, who recently passed away, Fleming sang the lovely aria, “Sea Air,” from the composer’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, in which the soprano had performed the lead role at the work’s premiere. The evening closed with a glorious account of the amazing tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra.
The second program—under the brilliant direction of the celebrated composer, conductor, and pianist, Thomas Adès, the orchestra’s Deborah and Philip Edmundson Artistic Partner—opened exuberantly with an impressive version of Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1, which was inspired by Nikolaus Lenau’s Faust. The renowned virtuoso, Kirill Gerstein, then took the stage for the New York premiere of Ades’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The soloist and the composer have collaborated several times before—Gerstein’s debut with this ensemble was a performance of Ades’s previous work for piano and orchestra, In Seven Days, in 2012, and last week at Carnegie Hall they gave a two-piano recital. Last month, in Gerstein’s recital at this same venue, he presented the world premiere of a Berceuse for solo piano from the composer’s 2017 opera, The Exterminating Angel. Although I am not fully competent to judge a work in this advanced idiom, the concerto was engaging and not without its pleasures, especially for its remarkable instrumental writing.
The evening concluded stupendously with a mesmerizing realization of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s masterly Symphony No. 4. The artists admirably conveyed the drama and intense Romanticism of the opening movement, while the ensuing Andantino reinforced the sense of longing, if enchantingly so. The ebullient Scherzo was immensely charming but most exhilarating of all was the thrilling finale, in which the conductor relied on unusually accelerated tempos. I eagerly look forward to the return of these splendid musicians!

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