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Quel Blog, the blog of John Pierce
On Friday night November 15, 2002, I attended a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus conducted by James Conlon at Symphony Hall in Boston.  I have never seen so few people at a Boston Symphony performance; I estimate that at least a third of the seats were empty.  The weather was good; yet I have seen more people even in bad winter weather.  I did not see a single person in the audience that I could identify as a foreign tourist.  In the past I have always seen a number of tourists from Japan, Europe, and Latin America at Boston Symphony performances.  With an apparent dramatic drop in tourism, the Symphony may have to give more thought to its programming in order to attract a local audience.

The program began with some of Schubert’s incidental music from
Rosamunde, D. 797:  a Hunter’s Chorus, Ballet Music II:  Andantino, and a Shepherd’s Chorus.  The Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed very well in the two choruses, enunciating the German text very clearly.  As to the ballet music, I agree with Steven Ledbetter’s program notes that the “delightful string of dance tunes reflects Schubert’s bottomless well of melodic invention." The first part of the program concluded with the overture from Die Zauberharfe, D. 644, that has come to be known as the Rosamunde overture, even though it is believed that the overture actually performed at the two performances of Rosamunde (the play was not a success) was that from Alfonso und Estrella.  The overture was more interesting than the music that preceded it.  I wonder why the performance did not begin with the overture. 

Next came Benjamin Britten’s
Cantata misericordium, Opus 69, for tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra.  The soloists were John Aler, tenor, and Christopher Maltman, baritone.  The work tells the story of the parable of the injured traveler and the good Samaritan with a Latin text by Patrick Wilkinson.  It was commissioned by the International Red Cross to celebrate the centenary of that organization.  It was first performed in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 1, 1963, by Le Motet de Genčve and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet with soloists Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  The current series of performances represent the first performances of the piece by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  The work, in my opinion, is of limited musical interest and has the potential to be very boring.  The soloists and chorus need to provide dramatic interest.  John Aler, an authoritative Britten tenor, and the excellent Tanglewood Festival Chorus, did just that.  The British baritone Christopher Maltman, however, as the traveler sang without so much dramatic commitment and at times was not loud enough.  At times the percussion overwhelmed his voice completely.  Perhaps part of the fault is the composer’s.  Maltman should withdraw this work from his repertory.  I doubt that there is much demand for it, in any event.  Since he sang so little (the piece is a short one) so unimpressively, it did not seem to make sense for the Boston Symphony to have brought in a singer from England when several local baritones could have done as well if not better.  I may listen to the radio broadcast tonight.  The sound engineers give solo voices more prominence in the broadcasts than they have in the hall.

After intermission came Britten’s Ballad of Heroes, Opus 14, for tenor, chorus and orchestra.  Composed in March 1939, the work is set to poems of Randall Swingler and W. H. Auden and commemorates those Englishmen who fought in the Spanish Civil War.  The piece is very stirring, beginning with three trumpets and a drum stationed at the rear of the second balcony.  Both John Aler and the chorus were excellent.

The program concluded with
Schubert’s Symphony number 4 in c minor, D. 417, Tragic.  Conlon led a graceful and at times energetic performance.  The juxtaposition of works of Britten and Schubert led me to think that Schubert wrote real music, and that, to me at least, what Britten wrote seems more like fanfare, punctuation, and filler, albeit moving at times.

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