Conductor: Andris Nelsons
Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin
Benjamin: Dream of the Song, for Countertenor, Female Chorus, and Orchestra
Bejun Mehta: Countertenor
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Episode from the Life of an Artist, Op. 14
After three evenings filled with music-related activities, I was happy to conclude this mini-marathon on Thursday evening with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who were in town for a two-night stand at Carnegie Hall, where I would catch them on their second night. The program featured two French works – Maurice Ravel's well-known Le tombeau de Couperin and Hector Berlioz's world-famous Symphonie fantastique – book-ending the actual reason for my presence in the concert hall, George Benjamin's Dream of the Song.
Although I had not been quite as bowled over as other audience members by his opera Written on Skin back in 2015, I still had found the work endlessly fascinating from a musical point of view, and I was very curious to move on to another composition of his. And of course, any chance to hear the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra is to be grabbed and enjoyed to the fullest.
I must confess that I have never particularly cared about Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin, but I nevertheless was able to appreciate the clarity and thoughtfulness with which the orchestra performed it.
Benjamin's Dream of the Song, on the other hand, turned out to be a brilliant little jewel that boldly shone with myriads of unusual colors for 15 agonizingly short minutes. As it was, the flawlessly polished performance benefited immensely from the spot-on reduced orchestra, remarkably poised countertenor Bejun Mehta singing English translations of medieval Hebrew poems from Andalusia, and the eight delicately radiant ladies of the Lorelei Ensemble singing Lorca's Spanish translations of medieval Arabic poems also from Andalusia. The finely crafted end result was as ethereal as hypnotic in its various combinations of instruments and voices, all the better to channel the universal mystery of the night.
A woman behind me commented to her seatmate that she had really felt ambivalent toward Written on Skin, but had really enjoyed that Dream of the Song. And it was easy to see why after having experienced the piece's intriguingly gorgeous polyphonic world.
I have heard the Symphonie fantastique quite a few times in my life so I have been giving it a rest for the past few years. But there's no way I was going to turn down the invitation from the Bostonians when I was already in the concert hall. And I have to say that their tightly controlled, sharp and muscular take on it made me fully realize what I had been missing, especially with the delicately bucolic "Scene in the Country" and the diabolically sleek "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath". They clearly did not spare any efforts while they were bringing out the bold originality and irresistible appeal of the ground-breaking work with their renowned savoir faire. On Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, Berlioz's symphony was truly fantastic.