Boston Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink at Carnegie Hall – Purcell/Stucky Funeral Music & Brahms 4 – Murray Perahia plays Schumann’s Piano Concerto

Purcell, arr. Steven Stucky
Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Murray Perahia (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 11 February, 2014
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Bernard Haitink © Matthias CreutzigerBernard Haitink turns 85 next month. He still has plenty of energy and stamina to animate and intensify a performance. The Boston Symphony Orchestra perfectly complements Haitink’s rigorous approach, with its warm and luminous sound, highly polished playing, clearly delineated lines and generally temperate dynamic levels. Throughout this concert conductor and orchestra were completely in sync, the result of frequent collaborations.

The concert opened with an arrangement by Steven Stucky of music written in 1694 for the funeral of Queen Mary II by Henry Purcell. While retaining much of Purcell’s instrumentation, Stucky adds chromatic embellishments and soft dissonant harmonies that generate a hazy atmosphere, complementing the music’s solemnity with a warm afterglow while leaving undisturbed the grandeur of the chorales that lead the procession. The BSO’s brass section produced a resonant and mellifluous sound punctuated by a forceful funereal tread on the timpani. It was as if the majesty of Renaissance England was filtered through the diffuse lens of modernity.

The highlight of the evening was Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Although Murray Perahia has played this popular work many times, this reading was fresh and exhilarating, with passionate evocation of dramatic passages in the first movement and introspection in its beautiful second theme; woodwind solos were gorgeously played. Perahia was enchantingly expressive in the second movement, in which the cellos were exquisite, and gave the exuberant finale a vibrant yet playfully lithe characterization, the pianist gliding over the keys. Perahia and Haitink were in perfect harmony. It was an excellent performance, scaling high drama and bathing lavishly in lyrical beauty.

The concert’s second half was devoted to Brahms’s Fourth and final Symphony. Haitink made a marked effort to keep tempos flowing. For the most part he was successful, even if there were moments toward the end of the finale when impulse threatened to attenuate. The performance elicited much power and dramatic strength. Strings were vibrant and forceful, woodwinds fluent, tinged with a gray haze during the second movement, and brass sounded mellow and burnished. Haitink let the music flow naturally and with lucidity. The finale began slightly on the brisk side, with horns producing a somewhat rough-hewn quality, but Haitink kept things seamless. Each of the passacaglia’s variations were given a distinctive character. Haitink once again proved that his approach can be as satisfying (if not more so) than the most sensationalized rendition.

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