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The night before Thanksgiving day may not seem like the ideal evening to journey out to Symphony Hall--particularly not if one has never been there before--but the Boston Symphony Orchestra's performance that night certainly gave the audience something for which to be thankful.
Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 54 opened the evening with bright and pleasant fervor. According to the program notes, this particular concer-to--like a good deal of his other pieces--was composed for Schumann's wife Clara, who performed as the soloist during its premeire on Dec. 4, 1845. Upon hearing the concerto, one cannot help but dream about what a wonderful and passionate performance the premiere must have been. One can hear Schumann's adoration for Clara etched into every movent, from the sparkling and brilliant "Allegro affettuoso" to the slower, sweeter "Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso" to the more powerful and vibrant "Allegro vivace."
Guest pianist Lief Ove Andsnes, however, captured much of the sincere passion of the piece with a dramatic enthusiasm that enraptured the audience. Born in Norway in 1970 and entering the Bergen Music Conservatory in 1986, Andsnes has gone on to perform with some of the most renowned orchestras and in some of the most prestigious music festivals in the world. Watching the music fluidly spill out of his hands, notes tumbling around the stage like small explosions of glitter, it becomes easy to understand how his success has reached the point that it has. The sprightly romance of Schumann's piece came to vivacious, yet intricately beautiful life under Andsnes' care. With the rest of the orchestra perfectly accompanying but never overshadowing him, the Norwegian pianist played the Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 54 with the enchanting energy that Schumann must have intended the piece to be performed with.
Symphony No. 1 in D by Mahler, a darker and considerably more complex piece, followed as the second piece. Mahler's life, particularly where romance was concerned, was known to be tumultous--he fell in love and planned to run away with a married woman but failed to show up at their meeting place and subsequently threw himself into composing, the program informs the reader. Many of Mahler's works reflect his own inner turmoil, and Symphony No. 1 in D is no exception.
The first portion of the symphony, which starts out as quiet as death, grew louder then softer as the piece progressed, and never let its ominous undertones escape. Before too long, the familiar melody of "Frere Jacques" creeps into the orchestra, seducing one section at a time until every instrument had slowly succumbed. This movement is known to parody a funeral march, but what is being parodied--the funeral or the children's song--remains a morbid mystery.
Under the frenzied yet fantastic con-ducting of Roberto Abbado, Mahler's work builds up until the final movement, when all of the ominous pressure that had been maliciously swimming at the bottom of the music suddenly leaps forth in an explosion of sound. Abbado led the orchestra to the symphony's profound and dramatic conclusion with a zeal that matched the intensity (and volume) of the piece itself. On his podium, Abbado demonstrated what all great conductors should strive to do--he nearly became the music, in all of its near-violent splendor. By the time he finally put his baton down and turned to bow to the audience, his visible fluster and enormous smile, as well as the standing ovation he received, served as testimony to his and the orchestra's incredible performance.
As the crowd shuffled out into the chilly night air, this reviewer contemplated her first Symphony Hall excursion. Attending the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Filled with haughty ladies in long fur coats, men who unabashedly shove past in the aisles, and other such unfriendly creatures, the audience can be less than welcoming.
Fortunately, as the Shumann and Mahler program this Thanksgiving proved, nothing--not even rude audience members--should prevent one from witnessing the myriad of musical splendor that is the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
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