Concerto in D for Piano (Left-hand) and Orchestra
The Rite of Spring
Seong-Jin Cho (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 29 January, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
For the first concert of its annual residency at Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra led off with Tania Léon’s Stride, premiered by the New York Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden in 2019. Tinged with jazz rhythms and echoes of the composer’s Cuban heritage, the score calls for a variety of percussion – including sand-blocks, bongos, crotales (antique cymbals) and a djembe (a goblet-shaped drum of west African origin). With an eye firmly on the pulse of the propulsive and arresting piece – replete with contrasting rhythms and quasi-improvised snippets for soloists – Andris Nelsons elicited a joyful and transparent account.
Next the Ravel, commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm during World War I. Composed between 1929 and 1930, concurrently with the Concerto in G, it is one of the composer’s final works, a masterful conception. Following the orchestral introduction, Seong-Jin Cho – with his right hand firmly gripping the piano frame, where it stayed throughout the piece – ripped into dramatic opening cadenza and went on to deliver a brilliant account full of poetry, nuance and clarity. Nelsons offered admirable support, the BSO responding with superb playing, fully attuned to the soloist’s sensitive delivery, and Cho offered an encore: a delicaterendition of Liszt’s D-flat Consolation.
Finally, The Rite of Spring, just two days before the 100th-anniversary of its first Carnegie Hall performance on January 31, 1924 by the BSO under Pierre Monteux (who had conducted the 1913 premiere in Paris), the dazzling playing of today’s BSO proved that though time may have lessened the music’s ability to outrage, it still seems fresh and original. Following Richard Svoboda’s graceful rendition of the opening bassoon melody, the intensity and momentum steadily mounted with each menacing moment. Nelsons shaped a highly dramatic accountthat allowed Stravinsky’s frequently dense score to breathe and all the riches of the music to unfold. The musicians responded with clear and colorful playing underscored by crisp rhythms. Some of the most impressive aspects came during the percussion-packed passages, especially in the final bars where Timothy Genis’s punching accents on timpani were a standout, ending the evening in explosive fashion.