A Boulanger Rarity Makes a Big Impact

05/02/2018

Lili Boulanger, Elgar, Rachmaninov: Vilde Frang (violin), Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Christian Măcelaru (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 3.2.2018 (ZC)

Lili BoulangerD’uin matin de printemps
Elgar – Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B minor Op.61
Rachmaninov – Symphony No.3 in A minor Op.44

An early 20th-century program from the Seattle Symphony and guest conductor Christian Măcelaru yielded inconsistent results. Each work was written between 1909 and 1936, yet harkens back to the lush Romanticism of the previous century in contrast to the prevailing modernism of the time. Măcelaru and Norwegian soloist Vilde Frang struggled with Elgar’s epic Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, but the ensemble ultimately shone with Rachmaninov’s cinematic Symphony No.3. The evening’s opening piece gave audiences a rare glimpse of a brilliant but often overlooked composer’s small output.

In her short life, Lili Boulanger composed precious little, and what survived is rarely performed in the United States. But the Seattle Symphony opened the evening with her charming, miniature tone poem D’uin matin de printemps (Of a spring morning), which clocks in at only five minutes. But Boulanger’s genius is obvious. In this compressed format, Boulanger uses verdant orchestral writing to illustrate the wonder she hints at in her title. This performance hopefully sent audiences home inspired to learn more about a gifted composer.

Boulanger’s elegance was followed by a decidedly mixed bag. Elgar’s violin concerto has moments of profound beauty, brilliant passages for the solo violin, and effusive passion. Yet its sheer length, disparate episodes, and complicated structure necessitate a strong soloist or conductor. The final movement exemplifies these difficulties. Elgar develops multiple themes while recalling earlier movements. Meanwhile, the soloist is challenged with difficult violin arabesques, arpeggios, scales, chords, and a powerful cadenza against tremolo pizzicati.

Vilde Frang’s performance was frustrating. In the first movement, her powerful control and rich romantic tone were a marvel to behold. There is no traditional cadenza, but unrelenting tension between orchestra and soloist were enough to keep the audience on the edge of its seat. But once past Frang’s virtuosity and Măcelaru’s grip on the score, there wasn’t much to behold. In the third movement, the faults were laid bare: Solo pyrotechnics and orchestral details were abundant, but Frang and Măcelaru succumbed to Elgar’s demands without an overarching vision.

After finishing his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Rachmaninov composed his Third Symphony, and critics were initially lukewarm. The composer’s acclaim had been dependent on his work as a solo pianist—and works like the Rhapsody and his four piano concertos were more readily embraced. But vivid playing from the Seattle Symphony distinguished brought this work to life, and rejuvenated the audience. Unlike the Elgar concerto, Măcelaru pushed and pulled the ensemble to achieve dramatic extremes. Temporarily sitting in the concertmaster’s chair, principal second violin Elisa Barston offered up achingly beautiful solos in the second movement. Barston is one of the most talented musicians in the group, and deserves every opportunity to showcase her leadership. As Măcelaru coaxed vigorous playing from the orchestra, the final movement exploded with extroverted force.

Zach Carstensen

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere by Novaya Opera of Pushkin – The Opera in the Theatre in the Woods __________________________________
  • NEW! Dartington International Summer School & Festival’s 70th __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! OMER MEIR WELLBER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST VALENTINA LISITSA IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s Kamara.hu __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H