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2012-04-29

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T he Painter At Work New York Is aac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall 03/09/2012 Maurice Rave l: Suite from Ma Mère l’Oye I gor Stravins k y: Concerto for P iano and Winds Dmitri Shos tak ovich: Sym phony Num ber 5 in D m inor, Opus 47 Peter Serkin (Pianis t) Bos ton Symphony Orc hes tra, Stéphane Denève (Conduc tor)

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S. D enève ( © St u Ros ner / IMG Ar t i s t s )

Okay, flagellate me: I had never heard of Stéphane Denève before las t night, the third c onc ert of the Bos ton Symphony Orc hes tra. But the Frenc h-born Mus ic Direc tor of orc hes tras in Stuttgart and Sc otland, w ith gues t appearanc es virtually everyw here els e in Europe and Americ a, has a burgeoning reputation. And if las t night’s performanc e is any indic ation, that reputation is not unfounded. T his w as Mr. Denève’s firs t appearanc e in Carnegie Hall, and he s tarted off not w ith a bang, but a w his per. T he s tart of Ravel’s Mother Goose, painted w ith s uc h delic ac y, s uc h metic ulous c ontrol of the ins truments , that one felt he w as a Frenc h painter rather than a mus ic ian. “Control” is not alw ays an attrac tive w ord, but this w as not s imply dis c ipline. (T he BSO players hardly need dis c ipline. ) Rather, he allow ed that opening oboe to s ing oh s o s oftly, he allow ed other ins truments to enter and depart, keeping all of Ravel’s delic ate virtually bras s -les s s c ore to be put on an palette rather than a c onc ert hall. T he glow of this reading w as due to the s malles t bits . In the P agoda, the gong w as n’t merely s truc k. It w as res onated, w as pulled bac k, w as s truc k s oftly again, giving the aural feeling of a Chines e pagoda. T he s olo violin w as s o s w eet, and all the w inds (as w ell as horn) played w ith a delic ac y that perhaps only a Frenc h leader (or Sw is s c onduc tor like Dutoit) c an ac hieve. T he mus ic w as originally w ritten as c hildren’s piano piec es (very deft c hildren, to be s ure), and c onduc tor Denève let every s ound touc h us , as if for the firs t time, as if w e w ere c hildren attuned to eac h s c intilla of a timbre and a tone.

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2012-04-29

c hildren attuned to eac h s c intilla of a timbre and a tone.

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P . Serkin ( © K at hy C hapma n)

I admit to being dis appointed by the Stravins ky Concerto f or Winds and P iano, though this had little to do w ith s olois t Peter Serkin or c onduc tor Denève. But I had heard Mr. Serkin play the s ame w ork, in the more rarefied atmos phere of Zankel Hall s ome eight months ago, w ith the International Contemporary Ens emble (ICE). And that performanc e w as inimitable. Whether c alled “c onc erto” or not, this is w ritten as c hamber mus ic , and the ICE-Serkin c ombination gave it the trans parenc y, the pinpoint alac rity w hic h a full almos t s tringles s Bos ton Symphony Orc hes tra c ould never ac hieve. Mr. Serkin, as alw ays , gave it his all. But in the previous performanc e, one c ould hear all the Baroque-s tyle c ounterpoint as w ell as the perc us s ive bounc e. Here, the c ounterpoint w as los t amids t the full orc hes tral brunt. After the intermis s ion, though, Mr. Denève w as at the height of his pow ers in that mos t popular of all Shos takovic h s ymphonies . We have all heard marvelous performanc es of this w ork. (And I’m not thinking of the finale, w hic h is failproof!) But Mr. Denève, again beginning almos t imperc eptibly, perhaps a little on the s low s ide, drove up the orc hes tra in a c res c endo s o s ubtle that w e didn’t even realize how fervently the orc hes tra w as playing until it w as full upon us . T he Scherzo w as more than s arc as tic . It w as c utting, ironic , it s kirted on Mahler s arc as m but then c ut through to bec ome almos t fearles s ly mordant. As for the Largo, Mr. Denève s imply allow ed the Bos ton Symphony s trings to do their w ork w ith a s ound both lus c ious and agonizing at one time. Mr. Denève not only appeared for the firs t time at Carnegie Hall, but had never c onduc ted the Bos ton Symphony before. T hat orc hes tra, though, w ith its long his tory of Frenc h c onduc tors , played extra beautifully for him. Hopefully he w ill return to New York. Alan Gilbert has done w onders w ith our ow n Phil, but Mr. Denève

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has done w onders w ith our ow n Phil, but Mr. Denève might w ell s how a different c olor, different nuanc es w ith our ow n ens emble.

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Harry Rolnic k

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