Boston Symphony Orchestra New Season – Wagner: Levine & Terfel

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude; Was duftet doch der Flieder
Die Walküre – The Ride of the Valkyries; Wotan’s Farewell & Magic Fire Music
Der fliegende Holländer – Overture; Die Frist is um

Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 2 October, 2010
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

James Levine. Photograph: Michael LutchThe capacity audience rose to its feet to welcome James Levine with a prolonged ovation when he made his eagerly anticipated and long-awaited return to Symphony Hall to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra in this opening-night Wagner concert. Because of lower-back problems, Levine had not led the BSO since last February. In April he underwent what he described in a recent interview as a ten-hour “monster operation” to correct scoliosis and spinal stenosis, and only returned to conducting on September 27, when he opened the Metropolitan Opera season with “Das Rheingold.”

For this concert (containing about an hour of music), which marked the beginning of his seventh season as Music Director of the BSO, Levine stayed with Wagner. The evening began with an exhilarating account of the Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”. While conducting this piece Levine sat in his high swivel chair and retained the broad, sweeping gestures that had characterized his conducting style until his recent injuries and illnesses interfered. After each selection, he turned in his chair to acknowledge applause but did not stand or leave the stage between the works, which were given without intermission.

For the second selection, Bryn Terfel delivered a characterful account of ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder’, Hans Sachs’s Act Two monologue from “Die Meistersinger”. Terfel was in fine voice – firm, focused and warmly expressive as he performed this contemplative piece in which the cobbler reflects on Walther’s master-song that was so bewildering to many who heard it, but which Sachs himself found appealing. Levine and the orchestra provided Terfel with a glorious accompaniment in which the BSO strings played with exceptional unity of purpose.

The rest of the concert continued in the same vein, with Levine leading superb performances of orchestral selections, each one followed by Terfel giving a vocal excerpt from the same opera. Throughout the evening the BSO brasses played with formidable power and precision, the strings sounded radiant, and the woodwinds and percussion were also in splendid shape.

After an absolutely electrifying account of ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, Terfel (singing Wotan in the Met’s current run of “Das Rheingold” and will do so in “Die Walküre” in April) delivered a deeply touching account of the god’s farewell to Brünnhilde. Next came a richly-hued ‘Overture’ to “The Flying Dutchman” coupled with Terfel’s anguished, darkly intense reading of “Die Frist ist um”, the Dutchman’s Act One monologue.

In response to the thunderous applause, Terfel returned for a warm and tender encore, ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’ (Song to the Evening Star) from “Tannhäuser.” Altogether this was a wonderful concert and a promising beginning to a new and ambitious BSO season.

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