We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Susan Graham
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has paid a welcome visit to New York's Carnegie Hall with Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink on the podium, and glamor girl mezzo-soprano Susan Graham raising the all-Ravel evening to an entirely new level.

The curtain-raiser was the lively Alborada del gracioso, written for piano in 1905 and orchestrated in 1918.  The Spanish flavor was evident from the start with some rather quietly plucked strings emulating the guitar; this gave way rapidly to a raucous tutti in which harp, horns and percussion contributed to the dense texture of sound.  It might have been fun to hear the piano version before or afterward but we'll save that idea for another concert, eager as we were to hear Ms. Graham.

Her hair is the color of honey and her elegant ensemble the color of pumpkin, but it was her voice that evinced the most color as she performed Shéhérezade, three poems for voice and orchestra which premiered in Paris in 1904 with text by Tristan Klingsor. (Do we think he was a Wagner fan?  Yes, we do!)  Ravel and Klingsor were both members of the Apaches, a group of "outsider" intellectuals and artists.  Ravel selected three poems from Klingsor's collection of 100.

The orchestration is just as dense as in the Alborada but Ms. Graham's accurate French elocution and enviable technique sailed right on through, or rather above the huge sound below.  The music is always exotic as the poet waxes rhapsodic over the sights he yearns to see in the Orient.  This armchair voyager reaches a passionate peak and then comes back down to earth as he imagines sharing this voyage with others over a cup of tea.  Ms. Graham filled this voyage with all kinds of lovely colors, wonder and enchantment.  There was an overwhelming feeling of ecstasy as the singer and the orchestra joined forces for the climax.

The shorter second poem describes a servant hearing her beloved's flute playing outside as her master sleeps.  The BSO's own flutist Elizabeth Rowe let us hear what the servant heard. The third poem was about an elusive stranger who appears and vanishes.  Ms. Graham performed both with enormous expressiveness.

The major work of the evening was the ballet Daphnis et Chloé in which the BSO was joined by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, led by John Oliver. But there were no words, just pure vocal sound.  Two harps, English horn, bass clarinet, alto flute and contrabassoon each contributed its own voice and there were percussion instruments heretofore unknown to us.  All added up to create a work of great majesty.  No wonder that the dancers of a century ago found the work difficult; the rhythms changed frequently.  This is the sort of work that fits Carnegie Hall the best--massive orchestral forces and a large chorus that fill the Isaac Stern Auditorium with that huge sound we love.

© meche kroop

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