Boston Symphony Orchestra/Levine – Beethoven 6 & 7

Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 February, 2010
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

James Levine. Photograph: Michael LutchSymphony Hall was packed for this concert, the first of this week’s two all-Beethoven programs conducted by James Levine, and the only Beethoven the music director will get to conduct this season. On this occasion Levine took on two symphonies he didn’t get to conduct last October when recovery from back surgery forced him to withdraw from the BSO’s complete Beethoven symphony cycle and three different conductors (Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Julian Kuerti and Lorin Maazel) stepped in to lead the scheduled concerts.

Levine’s accounts of the Beethoven symphonies on this program were strikingly different from those led by Maazel last October. Levine’s exuberant conducting style, with its broad, sweeping motions and wide range of expressive gestures with the left hand, contrasted markedly with Maazel’s restrained, rather angular approach, and seemed to allow a greater degree of freedom. Overall, Levine’s approach to Beethoven was more warmly expressive, giving the music a stronger sense of immediacy and spontaneity.

The ‘Pastoral’ was very well played, with Levine bidding the music forward in spaciously measured strides. The opening Allegro was crisp, light and clearly articulated. The BSO strings began with a sweet, supple sound which they displayed regularly throughout the concert, even in the more electrifying latter movements of the Seventh Symphony. The strings’ warm tone added to the lyrical quality of the second movement ‘Scene by the Brook’ which was taken at a slowish tempo. This movement was also notable for the expressive freedom of the woodwinds’ imitation birdcalls. This was a fresh and alert performance, with a sense of spontaneous vigor in every bar.

After intermission, came an expansive and fluent performance of the Seventh Symphony in which Levine emphasized the dance-like elements of the work. As they had in the Sixth, the BSO winds once again sounded magnificent, and the horns were equally impressive, sounding especially vibrant in the scherzo and the finale.

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