Boston Symphony/Maazel in New York – Beethoven

Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Andrew Farach-Colton

Reviewed: 2 November, 2009
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Lorin Maazel. Photograph: Silvia LelliWith James Levine recuperating from back surgery, Lorin Maazel stepped in to lead this Carnegie Hall visit by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Maazel is no stranger to New York audiences, of course (he was music director of the Philharmonic for the last seven years), but as this was among his first concerts with the BSO in nearly 40 years, it was something of an event nonetheless.

Maazel drew a sonorously rich, refined sound from the Bostonians, with silky strings, boldly characterful woodwinds, and excellent balance between the two. Indeed, I was reminded that this ensemble used to be billed as “the aristocrat of orchestras”; and, in the flattering spacious acoustic of Stern Auditorium, that old tag-line seemed apt.

Interpretively, Maazel’s Beethoven has many positive attributes: it is energetic and muscular (where warranted) and elegantly phrased. The scherzo of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony danced along with graceful rusticity, for example, while the ‘Thunderstorm’ hit with whiplash speed and accuracy. Maazel started ‘Scene by the Brook’ rather briskly but soon let the tempo relax, allowing for considerable ebb and flow; the magical changes of key were sensitively handled, and the overall result was exquisite, conveying a sense of wondrous exploration.

The Seventh Symphony started impressively. In the first movement’s introduction, Maazel delineated the stark contrast between vigor and vulnerability; and in the main Vivace section, he proved that a wide color palette could be obtained with Beethoven’s orchestra using modern instruments. In the obsessive second-movement Allegretto, Maazel gave expressive weight to the increasingly elaborate textures, although the consolatory major-key sections were frustratingly cool; and despite its consistent drive and rhythmic tautness, the scherzo sounded rather joyless. Maazel pressed the finale hard, too, making it into something of a Saint Vitus Dance.

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