Boston Symphony Orchestra/Graf – Brahms & Bruckner

Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op.102
Symphony No.7 in E [Nowak edition]

Janine Jansen (violin) & Alisa Weilerstein (cello)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Hans Graf

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 21 March, 2009
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Hans Graf – the fourth in an impressive parade of guest conductors who have conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra since James Levine’s departure for the remainder of the season – came to Symphony Hall to lead the orchestra in a weighty program of Brahms and Bruckner.

The first part of the concert was taken up with a deftly delivered performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto. Composed in 1887, two years after he had completed his Fourth Symphony, the work was Brahms’s final foray into symphonic territory (keyboard works, songs and chamber music were to follow). Although less showy than most concertos, the piece – composed for the cellist Robert Hausmann and Brahms’s old friend Joseph Joachim – is not without its heartfelt moments, and the young soloists featured in this performance made the most of them.

Two young talented performers whose careers are beginning to soar – Dutch violinist Janine Jansen (who made her BSO debut last August at Tanglewood) and American cellist Alisa Weilerstein (making her BSO debut in this program) – were the brilliant solo performers. Jansen’s balletic style was perfectly matched with Weilerstein’s openly emotional playing, with both players displaying consummate musicianship and extraordinary technical mastery. Their playing was warm, strong and compelling throughout, with the BSO under Graf providing positive and equally warm-hearted support. This was a passionate and powerfully delivered account – the Andante especially fine delicate and lyrical, and the finale replete with tensile energy.

After intermission Graf conducted Bruckner’s majestic Seventh Symphony. Like his predecessor Seiji Ozawa, BSO Music Director James Levine shows little interest in conducting Bruckner’s music, but he makes sure at least one of the composer’s works is included in the orchestra’s repertory each season and led by a conductor disposed to the task. Last season it was the Ninth led by Marek Janowski, the season before it was the Sixth with Ingo Metzmacher.

For Bruckner’s Seventh, Graf summoned fine playing and rich sonority from the orchestra in a refined and subtle performance. The strings displayed a rich and radiant sheen, the woodwinds were perfectly animated, and the sound of the brass, weighted by five horns and four Wagner tubas, was forceful, without being blaring. The inclusion of the highly debatable cymbal clash and triangle at the climax of the Adagio added to the movement’s perfectly vibrant impact. The scherzo was wonderfully vivid. The finale seemed to bog down at times, but the lovely chorale melodies glowed. On the whole, this was an appealing reading that did the conductor and the BSO players honor.

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