Boston Symphony Orchestra/Kuerti Marc-André Hamelin – Ligeti, Shostakovich & Tchaikovsky

Concert Românesc
Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, Op.35
Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op.17 (Little Russian) [Revised Version]

Marc-André Hamelin (piano) & Thomas Rolfs (trumpet)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Julian Kuerti

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 15 April, 2010
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Julian Kuerti. Photograph: Matti HillSymphony Hall doors opened early (6.30 p.m.) for this performance, to allow concert-goers to view a fashion show before the concert. Ten models wearing student-designed evening-dresses inspired by Tchaikovsky’s music strutted about the lobby during a fashion contest called “Project Tchaikovsky”. And it was Tchaikovsky’s music, in a stylishly sprung performance, which anchored the concert program, which also included works by Ligeti and Shostakovich.

The musical program opened with György Ligeti’s Concert Românesc (Romanian Concerto), an early piece (composed in 1951; revised in the mid-1990s) influenced by both Kodály and Bartók and strongly flavored with Romanian folk music. While Ligeti’s music is rarely performed by the BSO, this piece is not totally unfamiliar, the BSO having performed it under David Robertson four years ago. On this occasion Julian Kuerti – in his final scheduled appearance as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – led a vibrant, lucid account of Ligeti’s sparkling, often humorous piece, which the BSO musicians played with total commitment and great expertise.

Marc-André Hamelin. Photograph: Nina LargeBut the undeniable highlight of the evening was Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto, a highly virtuosic piece composed in a playful, deftly satiric style. The scoring of the work is unconventional; in addition to the piano, it calls for a single trumpet and strings. Shostakovich had originally considered writing a concerto for the Leningrad Philharmonic trumpeter Alexander Schmidt, but when the technical challenges proved too daunting, he decided to add a piano and make it a double concerto. Over time the piano took a more prominent role. Hamelin’s stylish performance brought out all the wit and romanticism of Shostakovich’s score, and the playing of BSO trumpet principal Thomas Rolfs was exceptionally expressive in the finale. Under Kuerti, the BSO strings played with ravishing beauty throughout.

The nickname of Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony – “Little Russian” – refers not to Tchaikovsky’s homeland, but to a part of the Ukraine. The music critic Nikolai Kashkin gave the descriptive subtitle to the work because of the Ukrainian folk-tunes used in the first and last movements. “Little Russian” means “Ukrainian”. Kuerti and the orchestra delivered a vigorous, consistently involving performance attacking Tchaikovsky’s high-spirited finale with extraordinary enthusiasm.

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