Boston Symphony Orchestra New Season

Miroirs – Alborada del gracioso [orchestrated Ravel]
Piano Concerto in G
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2

Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano)

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 4 October, 2007
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) in 1912The Boston Symphony Orchestra launched its 127th season at Symphony Hall with a colorful all-Ravel program conducted by Music Director James Levine. Only recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Europe, the Orchestra and Levine were in exuberant form for a program featuring mostly familiar works.

The concert began with a glowing account of Alborada del gracioso from the piano suite, Miroirs, which the composer subsequently orchestrated in 1918, a small but powerfully evocative tone poem first composed in 1905. With its quirky rhythms and evocations of castanets and guitars, the work has an unmistakably Spanish flavor. Levine and the BSO players perfectly captured the work’s vigorously comic atmosphere, as sharp guitar-like flashes and bright brass riffs contrasted with the ruminations of Richard Svoboda’s solo bassoon.

Susan Graham’s warm mezzo-soprano would seem to be perfectly suited to a languorous account of the “Shéhérazade” song-cycle, but on this occasion her interpretation was less characterful than expected and surprisingly lacking in spontaneity. Still, there were some appealing moments, especially in ‘La Flûte enchantée’, the atmospheric centerpiece in which the slave hears the distant sound of her beloved’s flute playing while her master sleeps. Levine and the orchestra set the scene admirably, and there was some delicately refined playing from principal flute Elizabeth Rowe. In the opening and closing songs, ‘Asie’ and ‘L’indifférent’, the atmospheric accompaniments were also notable, but Graham was less successful at conveying the desired sensuality.

Pianist Jean-Yves ThibaudetJean-Yves Thibaudet was the charismatic soloist in the Piano Concerto in G. He loves this music and it showed in a dazzling account which was well-nigh-perfect in every respect. The slow movement with its Spanish overtones was ravishing, and the outer movements with their strong jazz inflections were sparkling. The astonishing delicacy and finesse of Thibaudet’s playing, coupled with his unusual subtlety of feeling for both the music’s color and its rapturous moments, was a constant source of delight. Levine’s sympathetic support showed how sharply attuned he is to this music, and the orchestra played splendidly.

The refined virtuosity of the BSO players was repeatedly on display in a sensuous and magical performance of the Second Suite of Daphnis et Chloé. The strings were wonderfully expansive in the opening of ‘Daybreak’, the woodwinds were radiant in ‘Pantomime’, and Elizabeth Rowe played the flute solo with scintillating brilliance. A tumultuously zestful rendition of ‘Danse générale’ brought the Suite and the evening to an exciting close.

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