Boston Symphony Orchestra/Luisi Lise de la Salle – Honegger, Saint-Saëns & Stravinsky

Pastorale d’été
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22
Petrushka [1947 version]

Lise de la Salle (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Fabio Luisi

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 12 November, 2009
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Fabio LuisiThis delightful concert, highlighting the Boston Symphony’s long and rich tradition of performing French music, featured three works that premiered in Paris. Fabio Luisi, in his long-overdue BSO debut, started off the evening by leading a performance of Honegger’s rarely heard Pastorale d’été. Honegger and the BSO enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship. The orchestra commissioned his First Symphony for its 50th-anniversary, premiering the work in a performance conducted by Serge Koussevitzky in 1931, and in 1951 Charles Munch, Koussevitzky’s successor, conducted the first performance of Honegger’s Fifth symphony. While Honegger’s music appears quite often on BSO programs, prior to this performance the orchestra had played Pastorale d’été on only two occasions: in January 1929 with the composer conducting, and in July of 1987 at Tanglewood, conducted by Hiroshi Wakasugi.

Composed in 1920 while Honegger was on summer vacation in the Swiss Alps, Pastorale d’été is a brief (about eight minutes long) symphonic tone poem for chamber orchestra. Honegger prefaced the score with a phrase from Rimbaud’s “Les Illuminations”: “J’ai embrassé l’aube d’été” (I have embraced the summer dawn). The epigraph perfectly sums up the languid, warmly lyrical mood that pervades the piece. The work is scored for strings, single woodwinds and horn, and the instrumentation reflects the pastoral theme, with the influence of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun readily apparent.

Luisi and the orchestra delivered a wonderfully atmospheric account of Honegger’s lilting and colorfully orchestrated score. The BSO players responded willingly to Luisi’s distinct, highly demonstrative conducting style, with the languorous opening melody by the solo horn coming off particularly well, as did the livelier contributions by the clarinet.

Unlike Pastorale d’été, Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto has been frequently performed in Symphony Hall. The orchestra first performed the piece in 1882, and the many BSO performances since then include ones conducted in 1906 by music director Karl Muck with the composer as soloist.

Lise de la Salle. Photograph: Stéphane GalloisLike Luisi, the young French pianist Lise de la Salle made her BSO debut in this concert. She gave an eminently enjoyable performance of Saint-Saëns’s charming and virtuosic piano concerto. After the majestic piano solo that opens the piece, she perfectly captured the Mendelssohnian playfulness in the tuneful Allegro scherzando. In the fast and furious finale, she displayed impressive poise and power. Luisi and the BSO musicians provided her with an appropriately lightly touched and spirited accompaniment.

The concert ended with Stravinsky’s ballet score Petrushka, another piece familiar to BSO audiences. The 1947 version played on this occasion features a smaller orchestra than the original 1911 orchestration, especially in the brass and woodwinds, but gives a more prominent role to the piano. Luisi’s drew splendid playing from the orchestra, in a performance that revealed both the spontaneity and whimsical exuberance of the score. The numerous soloists were all excellent, but the playing of principal trumpet Thomas Rolfs and principal flute Elizabeth Rowe was particularly notable.

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