Boston Symphony Orchestra in New York

Chamber Symphony No.1 [Version for orchestra, arranged by the composer]
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Christine Brewer (soprano)
Jill Grove (mezzo-soprano)
Clifton Forbis (tenor)
Albert Dohmen (bass-baritone)

Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Marek Janowski

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 6 March, 2006
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

When the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s music director, James Levine, was injured in a fall following a concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall on March 1, the BSO turned to Marek Janowski to replace Levine at Carnegie Hall. (Levine’s assistant conductor, 32-year-old Ludovic Morlot, was not available since he had previously taken on the assignment of replacing Christoph von Dohnányi at the New York Philharmonic last weekend, as reviewed.) Although Janowski has made numerous guest appearances with U.S. orchestras and opera houses, his long career has been centred predominantly in Europe, including 16 years as music director of Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France from 1984 to 2000. He currently serves as artistic and music director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, and as chief conductor and artistic director of the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin.

Janowski opened the programme with an exciting performance of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1, as transcribed by the composer in 1935 for full orchestra from his 1906 composition originally scored for 15 solo instruments. Nevertheless, although well-played by the orchestra – especially the woodwinds – and conducted with drive by Janowski, I found the piece less than fully satisfying for reasons attributable not so much to the BSO musicians as to Schoenberg himself.

When Schoenberg transcribed his Opus 9 for full orchestra he added “B” to the opus number, but did not change the title, although in its revised form the work really is no longer a ‘chamber symphony’, its character having been changed dramatically. Schoenberg augmented the woodwinds only slightly, doubling the flute, oboe and bassoon and adding a third horn and a piccolo, but replaced the original five solo string instruments with a force ten times as large, and also added two trumpets and three trombones.

Schoenberg had been concerned from the outset that in his original scoring the strings would be covered by the winds, and his 1906 score provided explicit instructions for positioning the instruments so as to minimize this effect. In the BSO’s performance of the 1935 version, the strings were certainly not overpowered (although in solo passages the principal strings were still hard-pressed to compete), but there was a loss of the clarity of individual wind and string voices that had given the original work its quite modern character. The denser textures instead underscored the piece’s kinship with such late- and post-romantic works as Richard Strauss’s tone poems and even Schoenberg’s own Verklärte Nacht. Whether Janowski and the orchestra could (or should) have done more to project the modernism of the original is a moot point.

Janowski took Beethoven’s Ninth at a brisk pace, with his enthusiasm, reflected in the orchestra’s vigorous playing, seeming to take priority over precise control of orchestral balances (although these were by no means aberrant). He was careful, however, not to deprive the more lyrical passages of their delicacy and warmth, not only in the third movement but also in such places as the extended episode following the double basses’ statement of the “Ode to Joy” theme in which the solo bassoon provides counterpoint as the basses, cellos and violas, and later the violins, develop that theme.

From the symphony’s mysterious opening onward, the strings played uniformly well, with their honeyed tones shining gloriously in the second, Andante moderato, subject of the third movement. The BSO wind players ably captured Beethoven’s characteristic woodwind sound, and the timpani – a very important instrument in this symphony – was played brilliantly throughout. The horns, although a bit shaky at points in the scherzo, soared smoothly and beautifully above the strings in the slow movement.

In the final movement’s setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” soloists and chorus were exemplary. The four soloists made an excellent and well-balanced ensemble, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, some 130 voices strong, provided not only volume but accuracy of intonation and diction, with virtually every word distinct and understandable, even in passages where different portions of the text are sung simultaneously.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content