Saturday, April 16, 2011

Boston Symphony Orchestra-April 15, 2011

                                                       Photo/Stu Rosner-BSO

Stéphane Denève....Conductor
Jonathan Biss........Pianist

Stéphane Denève, music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and chief conductor designate of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, made his BSO debut this week in a program of Beethoven, Roussel and Ravel.  He was available on short notice to replace Sir Colin Davis, who had to cancel his engagements with the BSO this month for health-related reasons.

The program opened with Beethoven Piano Concerton No. 5, Emperor, with Jonathan Biss at the keyboard.  The opening chords showed that Denève was no ordinary guest conductor.  The BSO musicians were immediately confident, energetic and powerful.   I felt that the 30 year-old Biss's performance was uninspiring, perhaps because I found his excessive facial and body movements distracting.  He ended each crescendo, each cascade with a great flourish of his arms, lifting himself off the piano seat.  I was waiting for him to fly into space!  He certainly did not have the brilliant and vibrant accomplishment of a Martha Argerich, for example, but then Biss is only 30 years old and is already a pianist well beyond his years.

Denève, Biss and the orchestra acknowledge the applause of the audience.

After the intermission Denève addressed the audience, the first time I have ever experienced this.  He endeared himself to the audience with his palpable excitement over his debut with the BSO and the fact that he had selected to perform Albert Roussel's Symphony No. 3 in G Minor, which was commissioned by the eminent conductor and Music Director of the BSO, Serge Koussevitsky, for the fiftieth anniversary of the BSO.   Moreover, he revealed to us that he and Roussel were born in the same northern town in France.  

Roussel's new symphony was enthusiastically received by Bostonians at its first performance in October 1930.  And now again the audience was enraptured by the exuberance of the conductor, the orchestra, the music and the violin solos of first-violinist Malcolm Lowe.  It was a thrilling performance.  Denève took his own serious bows only as he called upon the various sections to stand with him.  The audience gleefully applauded and the conductor and the orchestra basked in the recognition and appreciation. 

Just as Koussevitsky had done at the Roussel premiere some 80 years ago, Denève partnered the symphony with Maurice Ravel's La Valse.  It was fascinating to watch the effervescent Denève elicit from the orchestra a powerful and dynamic interpretation as he turned, flailed, bounced, coaxed all the while sweeping back his long, thick, curly hair.  Denève's enthusiasm was infectious and the audience rewarded him with a sustained ovation!     

For Jeremy Eichler's review for the Boston Globe click here:  

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor, Part 1--legendary Chilean pianist Claudio Arru--Staatskapelle Dresden--Sir Colin Davis, conductor

Albert Roussel--Symphony No. 3 in G minor-Part 1-- BBC Symphony Orchestra-Lionel Bringuier, conductor

Ravel La Valse-National Orchestra of France--Leonard Berstein, conductor--Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 1975

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