20 March, 2019

Renee Fleming performed music from Richard Strauss's "Capriccio" with Andris Nelsons learning and Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at Symphony Hall. Photo: Hilary ScottBoston Symphony Orchestra - Andris Nelsons - Renee Fleming

March 19, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Boston Symphony Orchestra - Andris Nelsons - Renee Fleming
All Strauss

I shall be brief on details. This Concert was an exact repeat of the concert given in Boston 3 days ago. The Classical Review has a detailed review (the pic is also from that article), and I agree with most of it.

Regarding the Sextet from Capriccio (in lieu of the usual overture), the lower voices were too prominent for my taste. I'd have preferred a little more rosin in the violins. It should be noted that, similarly, I found the concertmaster too subdued in the solo's in Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Renee Fleming has a huge fan base. Many in the audience went for her, as evidenced by the large number of empty seats after intermission. I enjoyed her singing, especially since there were supertitles. Listening to opera without knowing the words have never worked for me, and surely Richard Strauss would approve. Fleming is a great artist and I have listened to many of her albums (from the HK library). When it comes to Strauss though, even if she is renowned and performed regularly in Europe, I was never able to admit her into my top echelon. Perhaps all the recordings I have heard had spoiled me (Rosenkavalier is a personal favorite, and this excellent article will tell you about all the great Marchallins). Actually, in this performance, I found her characterization better than on records! But it was the encore in memory of Andre Previn that had me hooked. Now, I want to hear the whole Street Car Named Desire! It was too bad that there were no supertitles and, believe me, operas sung in English need it more than Italian or German!

As for Thus Spake Zarathustra, what can I say! A stunning performance of great detail and elegance. Most audiophiles I know just listened to the opening, but I have long loved the whole work and own many versions. Here my knowledge of all the great recordings did not spoil my experience - no audio system can reproduce the immensity of it all. And it is not just the big moments. Carnegie Hall unfortunately does not have a real organ. While the electric reproduction was good, the lowest bass notes just did not shake one as a real one would, not even quite as much as a recording, which has them highlighted. And the big percussion crashes, particularly with this most elegant orchestra, were impactful but not overwhelmingly loud (as NYPO and van Zweden would surely do). Not important at all, as the immensity of the canvas, the sheer beauty and shimmering details heard could not at all be reproduced at home. Andris Nelsons is a famous Straussian, and the concert showed why. This is the most satisfying Boston/Nelsons concert I have heard, better than even his Shostakovich, and definitely better than his Mahler. The playing and refinement of the orchestra is irreproachable.

10 March, 2019


Skride Piano Quartet

March 10, 2019, Town Hall
Skride Piano Quartet
Mahler - Mozart - Brahms

Latvian Baiba Skride, winner of 2001 Queen Elizabeth (the same year Singaporean Kam Ning placed second and Chinese Ning Feng placed fifth), is fairly well known in Europe, less so in America. The other members are also seasoned professionals. Sister Lauma Skride is the pianist. French Lise Bertaud is the violist. Dutch Harriett Krijgh, who has just become a member of the Artemis Quartet (which unfortunately seems to be in a great state of flux), is the cellist.

Perhaps because of the rain, attendance was low for a PSC concert.

Mahler's Piano Quartet in A minor, a work of his teens, has only one extant movement and is seldom heard. Judging from this performance, that is unfortunate. The foreboding opening on the piano and the soft string figures that followed had me hooked. The string players here had an ethereal quality in pianissimo. The foursome have a fanatical attention to rhythm, detail and balance that is highly cultured and, dare I say, European.

Leader Baiba Skride is unusually deferent to his colleagues, and I can see why - they are all great players and tonally ravishing. But when she does step out (she makes a slight turn so the violin projects directly to the audience), there is no mistaking that she is a player of power.

Though the pianist sometimes played quite spritely, the measured approach of the strings made Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor come across as rather dark. During intermission, the fellow in front of me wondered how they were going to get through the second half; he said, apologetically to his female friends that some "testosterone" was missing. He was likely an amateur musician (many in the psc audience). He need not have worried.

The Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor, though superbly played, was not the kind of virtuoso display that I experienced previously with the Andsnes crowd (here). The Alla Zingarese that capped the piece was urgent, but less pungent than usual. The previous movements were well delineated and balanced, but in unearthing details and rhythm subtleties, the main melodies sometimes were not brought forth enough. Nonetheless, for me, it was an excellent and equally valid effort. Keep in mind this was an all minor-key concert!