Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Boston Symphony Orchestra - Grieg & Mahler - 11/18/19

Conductor: Andris Nelsons 
Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 
Leif Ove Andsnes: Piano 
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G Major 
Genia Kuhmeier: Soprano 

Although the weekend was officially over, my mom and I still had one more concert scheduled during her stay in the Big Apple because, of course, no visit to New York City is complete without a visit to the fairest concert hall of them all, Carnegie Hall. Even better, the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra and his music director Andris Nelsons, as well as Norwegian pianist extraordinaire Leif Ove Andsnes, happened to be in town at the same time too. Talk about good timing!
The program was definitely on the safe side, with one big concerto by Norwegian composer Grieg, which I was not familiar with but was ready to immerse myself into, and one big symphony by Austrian composer Mahler, which while not a favorite of mine (All those bells tend to get on my nerves) should still give the orchestra a golden opportunity to unleash its mighty power. Big names attract big crowds, and for the fourth time in four days, on Monday evening, we found ourselves in a packed music venue. Yeah!

Having had the privilege of hearing Leif Ove Andsnes dip his virtuosic toes into an impressive range of genres, from Baroque to contemporary, as well as in a impressive range of contexts, from solo recitals to soloist with huge orchestras, I was still curious to hear him tackle a piece by a fellow Norwegian music man. Heavily influenced by Robert Schumann and Norwegian folk music, championed by no less than Franz Liszt and constantly revised by the composer, Grieg’s one and only piano concerto is unquestionably a composition whose popularity has never abated.
And it certainly proved to be as popular as ever on Monday night, with Andsnes expertly conveying its majestic grandness, glorious lyricism, delicate melancholy and general warmth. Beside delighting the audience, the impeccable performance actually pointed out the obvious, in case somebody was wondering: Why bother writing more piano works if you’ve hit the jackpot the first time around? Although it faces serious competition on the piano concerto repertoire, Grieg’s has no problem holding its own in the best Romantic tradition.
To respond to our loud appreciation of his glowing performance, Andsnes came back with Grieg’s Norwegian March from Lyric Pieces, Op. 54, No. 2, which he promptly dispatched with the same exacting savoir-faire.
After intermission came the time to the other warhorse of our evening. Inspired by the lovely song featured the last movement, Mahlers’ Symphony No. 4 is very unusual in that it was composed backwards, with the last movement composed first and everything else revolving around it. In its final form, the first movement describes a happy-go-lucky human being, before death makes a wild appearance, out-of-tune violin in hand, in the second movement. But not to worry, calm and beauty take over the third movement to ease the audience into the celestial Finale.
So there is a lot going on during those 60 minutes, but on Monday evening maestro Nelsons had pretty much everything under control, allowing the huge orchestra to breathe when needed, but also to display plenty of controlled force when it was called for. When all had been played and done, some of the undisputed highlights had been a thrillingly elegiac Adagio as well as the exquisite closing song "Das himmlische Leben" (The Heavenly Life), which had found a wonderfully interpreter in Austrian soprano Genia Kuhmeier, whose crystal-clear voice and graceful presence were priceless contributions to the overall performance.

Four down and no more to go. Mission accomplished.

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