Boston Symphony Orchestra/Alan Gilbert – Métaboles, Symphony in Three Movements, La valse – Julian Rachlin plays Tchaikovsky

Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Symphony in Three Movements
La valse – poème chorégraphique

Julian Rachlin (violin)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Alan Gilbert

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 10 January, 2013
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Alan Gilbert. Photograph: Chris LeeThe concert opened with Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles. Commissioned by George Szell for the Cleveland Orchestra and premiered in 1965, Métaboles is one of the composer’s most accessible and frequently performed works. Composed for an oversized orchestra (including three bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns and trumpets, three trombones, tuba and massive percussion forces), for this performance the work necessitated a stage extension jutting out into Symphony Hall to accommodate all the musicians. The 18-minute piece consists of five connected movements, each highlighting a different section of the orchestra. The opening ‘Incantatoire’ employs the whole ensemble but emphasizes the winds, most notably the flute. The slow second movement, ‘Linéaire’, and the scherzo-like ‘Obsessionnel’ which follows, give prominence to the strings and the brass in turn, while the dark and eerie fourth, ‘Torpide’, gives way to the percussion. The appropriately titled ‘Flamboyant’ finale brings all sections together. The influence of Stravinsky is evident throughout the colorfully scored piece. New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert, who has appeared with the BSO on three previous occasions, led a vivid and finely detailed performance of Dutilleux’s inventive score.

Julian RachlinA vigorous performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto came next, with Julian Rachlin (substituting for Lisa Batiashvili who was forced to cancel due to a back injury) making an impressive BSO debut. Rachlin combined a warmly expressive tone with sparkling virtuosity, creating a palpable excitement during the notoriously difficult cadenza. Another highlight was the delicate ‘Canzonetta’, which Rachlin played with rapt intensity. Gilbert, a wonderfully responsive accompanist, drew a warm and powerful response from the BSO.

Following intermission was an exhilarating account of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements that showcased the BSO musicians to dazzling effect. There were too many deserving contributions to list here, but especially notable was pianist Vytas Baksys and harpist Jessica Zhou. Under Gilbert, the BSO underlined the purposeful propulsion and jagged rhythms of the imaginatively scored piece. The concert ended with a brilliant performance of Ravel’s La valse, at once a tribute to the Viennese waltz tradition and an unsettling allusion to the crumbling society that it dominated. Gilbert displayed a marvelous sense of style in the lilting theme and effectively focused on the mysterious and menacing details in Ravel’s ultimately unsettling orchestration.

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