Boston Symphony Orchestra/Haitink James Galway – Debussy, Ibert & Brahms

Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Sir James Galway (flute)

Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 19 November, 2009
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Sir James Galway. Photograph: thegalwaynetwork.comThis August the Boston Symphony kicked-off celebrations for James Galway’s 70th-birthday year (the day itself being in December) with a series of concerts at Tanglewood. The festivities have continued with celebrations at the Ravinia Festival with James Conlon and the Chicago Symphony, and in New York where the National Flute Association recognized Galway with a Lifetime Achievement award, and where he led more than 2,000 flutists to set a new Guinness World Record for the “Largest flute ensemble”.

This week the BSO feted Galway again. But this time he wasn’t the only one being honored. This concert also celebrated the 80th-birthday year of BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink, who has regularly led the orchestra since 1985. Haitink appeared hardy and alert as he led a program of works by Debussy, Ibert and Brahms.

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Matthias CreutzigerA beautifully played performance of Nocturnes, Debussy’s triptych of atmospherically scored tone-paintings from 1899, opened the concert and offered some of the evening’s most compelling moments. In the first movement, ‘Nuages’, Robert Sheena’s fluid English horn solo came off particularly well. In the second movement, ‘Fêtes’, Haitink drew wonderfully transparent playing from the orchestra, with the trumpets’ fanfares building up to a thrilling display and then softly fading. In ‘Sirènes’ the off-stage vocalise by the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was appropriately mysterious and seductive.

Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto, a work that the BSO had not been played since 1954, was a showcase for the extraordinary technical abilities of Galway. Playing the virtuosic piece from the score, Galway displayed astonishing agility, wonderful precision of attack and intonation, and lithesome but perfectly controlled phrasing.

Following intermission Haitink led a finely shaped, spacious reading of Brahms’s First Symphony, conveying the full weight of the score as well as its lyricism. Haitink’s subtle but assured conducting drew consistently fine playing from the BSO. Some of the more noteworthy contributions included principal James Sommerville’s exquisitely rendered horn call in the finale, and concertmaster Malcolm Lowe’s shimmering violin solo.

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