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Music review: BSO’s Strings appearance special for several reasons

Monday, March 21, 2011
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— The Boston Symphony Orchestra Strings gave it their all Monday night at the Massry Center for the Arts as part of the Renaissance Musical Arts series. It is the first time in more than 20 years the 15-member group has appeared in the Capital Region.

The concert was special for two other reasons: the ensemble gave the world premiere of David Post’s lyrical “Fantasia on a Virtual Chorale” and it played Pavel Haas’s “Study for String Chamber Orchestra,” which premiered in 1944 at the concentration camp at Theresienstadt under conductor Karel Ancerl. Haas perished at Auschwitz along with the orchestra that premiered his work.

But Ancerl survived to return to Theresienstadt after the war where he discovered a few string parts from which the work was reconstructed.

Ancerl never conducted the work again, but BSO violist Mark Ludwig founded the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation in the early 1990s. It was through his research that the Haas work was found, which Ludwig brought to BSO music director Seiji Ozawa’s attention and who conducted it with the BSO in several performances in 1991.

For all these reasons and the rest of the program, which included Barber’s ephemeral Adagio for Strings, Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the crowd could be grateful.

It was a marvelous concert. Working under conductor Jamie Somerville, who usually plays principal French horn in the orchestra, the ensemble was balanced, precise, pitch perfect, supple, produced a singing and robust sound and wore their hearts on their sleeves. Somerville, who also conducts the Hamilton Philharmonic, wasn’t afraid to put his stamp on the repertoire standards but kept to the music’s integrity. He was well paced, musical and passionately intense.

The Mozart was light and carefree with a sweet lilt, tender attacks and releases and not too many dynamics. The Haas had a fiery drive, multi-meters, tricky rhythms and a busy score that bookended a dark, haunting, slow inner section. The final three chords were like cries for help and very dramatic.

Somerville built Barber’s tranquil but melancholy long lines with a strong, intense pacing. Post’s work was very well structured with interesting inner moving lines and a bittersweet lyricism that opened into a Coplandesque, sunny and very melodic section. It was very pretty.

The Tchaikovsky was filled with luscious sound, passages like swoons, dramatic beats of silence and a second movement that swayed like flowers in a summer breeze. The finale was all perky.

The ensemble received a standing ovation, but there was no time for an encore. They had to rush back to Boston to work today.

The next concert on the series is June 12 with the New England Conservatory Orchestra and piano prodigy George Li.

 
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