Ma Mère l’Oye – Suite
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Petrushka [1911 version]
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 7 August, 2015
Venue: Tanglewood Music Festival, Koussevitzky Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts
Charles Dutoit got this Boston Symphony concert at Tanglewood off to a delightful start with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, capturing fully the fairy-tale magic of the music. Dutoit has great affection for it, and drew marvelous playing. Conversational woodwinds were excellent in ‘Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty’, after which John Ferrillo’s oboe and Robert Sheena’s English horn depicted the plight of Tom Thumb (‘Petit Poucet’) as chirping birds (flute and piccolo) ate up the trail of breadcrumbs (violins) he had dropped to guide him out of the woods. Celesta, xylophone and tam-tam helped create a faux-Chinese aura in the dancing melody of ‘Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas’. ‘Conversation of Beauty and the Beast’ pitted William R. Hudgins’s lyrical clarinet against Gregg Henegar’s gruff contrabassoon; after a climactic cymbal clash the music faded to a gentle end, a mood carried over into ‘Le jardin féerique’, in which lush strings had the dominant role, with percussion gloriously coloring the coda.
Pre-concert, Leonidas Kavakos had explained his affinity for Sibelius’s Violin Concerto to Martin Bookspan. Kavakos’s intense engagement with this piece was immediately apparent in the performance. Excellent playing by the woodwinds was darkly atmospheric, as was a passage for cellos just before the cadenza in which Kavakos did not allow his spectacular rendition of scales and double stops to overshadow musical development, and the coda was a wildly energetic dance. Woodwinds and horns gently led the way into the Adagio, Kavakos rendering its principal melody with tender, almost sorrowful emotion, developing the theme without breaking the mood, and the violin’s gentle conclusion was breathtaking. The timpani and low strings set a steady pace for the finale, Kavakos vigorously digging into the jaunty main theme and relishing the pyrotechnical passages. Dutoit and the BSO joined as equal partners surging forth to the dramatic coda. As an encore Kavakos offered Paganini’s Caprice No.17 (in E-flat).
Dutoit’s expansive gestures befit his tall stature. His partnership with the BSO was demonstrably congenial. Stravinsky’s music for the ballet Petrushka, given in its larger-orchestra original version, was a superb showcase for the Bostonians. Dutoit threw himself into the music almost literally, as if one of the drunken revelers at the Shrovetide Fair. Of many highlight was the ‘Waltz of the Ballerina and the Moor’ in the third of the four tableaux, which featured Thomas Rolfs’s brilliant cornet solo. Indeed, the BSO played brilliantly, with almost every instrument – even the tuba – having its share of the spotlight. Especially noteworthy contributions came from the pianist and the percussion section. The ballet concludes with Petrushka’s demise and the frightened exit of the magician after being taunted by the eponymous puppet’s ghost. The work thus ends (with apologies to T. S. Eliot) not with a bang, but a whimper!