Boston Symphony Orchestra/Stéphane Denève – The Love for Three Oranges & Ein Heldenleben – Yo-Yo Ma plays Shostakovich

The Love for Three Oranges – Suite, Op.33bis
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat, Op.107
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40

Yo-Yo Ma (cello)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Stéphane Denève

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 3 October, 2013
Venue: Symphony Hall, Boston

Stéphane Denève. Photograph: Drew FarrellA rousing start with an invigorating performance of Prokofiev’s Suite from his satirical opera The Love for Three Oranges. The BSO has taken-up this music on surprisingly few occasions. This performance was the first of the complete Suite since Serge Koussevitzky led the orchestra in its American premiere in 1926. Prokofiev’s 1919 opera, based on the mid-eighteenth century Commedia dell’arte work of the same name by Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi, tells the story of a prince under an enchanted spell who goes on a quest for three princesses inside three oranges and – after overcoming numerous fantastical obstacles – comes to a happy ending with the last of the three.

Yo-Yo Ma. Photograph: www.yo-yoma.comConstructed in six parts, the Suite eliminates the vocal lines of the opera or replaces them with instruments. The highly colorful and contrasting movements correspond to the progression of the plot, and the music is by turns light, dark, grotesque, biting, tenderly romantic and comic. Stéphane Denève seemed very much at home, energetically conducting, exploiting the BSO’s dynamic range to great effect and delivering a highly spirited, strongly characterized performance that finely defined Prokofiev’s shimmering score.

Yo-Yo Ma played Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto with a compelling intensity. His projection was somewhat faltering at the very beginning, but he soon gathered the necessary momentum and was never over-powered by the Orchestra. Ma’s playing was especially moving in the second movement’s ethereal passage on high harmonics shared with the celesta. Displaying indomitable force, he dispatched brilliantly the protracted cadenza constituting the third movement and the fiendishly-paced virtuoso finale. Denève and the Orchestra provided excellent support throughout, with associate-principal Richard Sebring offering artful contributions on the horn.

The concert ended with an able-bodied account of Richard Strauss’s hefty tone-poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), incorporating both sweep and power but offering restraint when needed. Denève efficiently handled the difficult transitions, drawing out nicely poetic playing in the final section. Among the many players singled out out for solo bows, concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, back at Symphony Hall after an extended medical leave, received the loudest applause for his elegantly nuanced playing.

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