BSO's "Faure/Ammann/Messiaen/Debussy": French Dip

Composer Dieter Ammann
(photo: BSO)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra's current program, with three French pieces on offer, is strong on Gallic elegance, from Gabriel Faure's Pavane to Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension to Claude Debussey's La Mer. There was also an American premiere under Finnish Conductor Susanna Malkki, and featuring German-born Swiss Pianist Andreas Haefliger, Dieter Ammann's The Piano Concerto (Gran Toccata).

Faure's Pavane, Opus 50 has been described as stately, gorgeous, and familiar, with its composer's calm, naturalness, restraint and optimism (as noted by none other than Aaron Copland). It was first written in the 1880's for solo piano, then recomposed in 1887 for a full orchestra (with possible chorus and dancers). It is a Renaissance court dance, or processional, which is delicate and seductive, with a mood like Debussy's Claire de lune, with visions of Arcadia. It begins with the most famous music with a supple flute solo by flautist Elizabeth Rowe, continues with the brass section featured, and finally its opening theme returns. It was well and subtlety performed under Malkki's caring baton.

Pianist Andreas Haefliger
(photo: BSO)

The first half of the concert ended with the American premiere of Ammann's The Piano Concerto (Gran Toccata), actually originally written for Haefliger, with both jazz and modern elements. It was an impressive performance by all, with a great deal of vitality and verve, which the audience seemed to support, though time will tell whether the work earns any future with orchestras around the world. It should be noted that Ammann titled it The piano concerto since he doesn't intend to compose another; in point of fact, he wrote as though he were composing for two orchestras (one being the piano itself) rather than the more traditional format with piano solos. Once again, Malkki was superbly in charge of what could easily be, in less capable hands, an uncontrolled train wreck. It makes all the more surprising the fact that she hasn't conducted at Symphony Hall in about a decade. Glass ceilings, anyone?

The second half of the program began with Messiaen's 1932 Alleluiah on the Trumpet, Alleluiah on the Cymbal from his L'Ascension, (its third movement), a piece with definite Debussy influences, which led naturally to the final work, which was, fittingly, Debussy's La Mer (which was given its American premiere in 1907 by the BSO), with its three movements portraying changing states of the sea over the course of a day, three “Symphonic Sketches”: From Dawn to Noon on the Sea, Play of the Waves and Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea. It was a fine antidote to the almost frenzied Ammann work, a perfect segue out into the lovely crisp autumn day.

The program is to be repeated tonight, Saturday October 26th.

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