The previous Saturday (September 17), at Lexington's Cary Hall, Lexington Symphony music director Jonathan McPhee told the audience that he had always wanted to put Claude Debussy's Nocturnes and Gustav Holst's The Planets on the same program. Debussy's trio — "Nuages," "Fêtes," and "Sirènes" — was inspired by James Whistler's various paintings of the same name, the visual and aural cues — clouds, fireworks, siren calls — getting their modernist kick from hints of mediæval modes, Phrygian in "Nuages," Mixolydian in "Fêtes." Holst's work also looks to the skies, and though it draws on the English folk sensibility, it too has its modal side. Both "Sirènes" and the "Neptune" section of The Planets call for a women's chorus, here provided by Holly MacEwan Krafka's New World Chorale.

The performances were a testament to what a "local" orchestra can achieve with a skilled conductor who focuses on expressivity rather than virtuosity, and who seems to be discovering the music rather than arriving at a predetermined destination. "Nuages" had an Oriental feel, the clouds not languishing but in tempo. "Fêtes" balanced precariously between the whirl of the tarantella and the mounted parade of the Republican Guard; "Sirènes" was a study in restless ostinatos, with unusually carnal siren calling from the New World Chorale, which had filed into the left-hand balcony.

The highlight of The Planets was the opening "Mars," with its menacing brass and a steady tread that could have represented a march of the clones from Star Wars. (Amazing that the other famous 5/4 movement in classical music, the slow movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony, manages to sound like a waltz.) It built in hysteria without increasing in tempo; the cataclysm was kaleidoscopic. "Venus" was melting, with a seductive cello line, "Mercury" fleeting but not gossamer, "Jupiter" stiff-upper-lip in its hymn tune and with a soaring trumpet line toward the end (though the final string figurations didn't quite emerge). "Saturn" was a relatively vigorous "Bringer of Old Age," its "Dies Irae" motif reminding us of the hint we'd heard in "Nuages"; "Uranus" was a rollicking, "Fêtes"-like "Magician" who disappeared into thin air, leaving a lonely harp behind. And "Neptune" recalled the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, the "Mystic" isolated in the universe, striving to interpret the Eternal Feminine of the offstage New World Chorale.

< prev  1  |  2  | 
Related: BLO’s Barber of Seville; plus Eschenbach leads the BSO, Boston Baroque’s Mozart, and the Yiddish songs of Lazar Weiner, Emmanuel’s late Mozart, NEC’s early Britten, BSO guest conductors, and Boston Lyric Opera’s The Inspector, A toothsome classical concert season, More more >
  Topics: Classical , classical, Ryan Turner, Mozart,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
    Fifty-four years after its groundbreaking Broadway premiere, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun remains as dense, and as concentrated, as its title fruit.
  •   LIGHT WAVES: BOSTON BALLET'S ''ALL KYLIÁN''  |  March 13, 2013
    A dead tree hanging upside down overhead, with a spotlight slowly circling it. A piano on stilts on one side of the stage, an ice sculpture's worth of bubble wrap on the other.
  •   HANDEL AND HAYDN'S PURCELL  |  February 04, 2013
    Set, rather confusingly, in Mexico and Peru, the 1695 semi-opera The Indian Queen is as contorted in its plot as any real opera.
  •   REVIEW: MAHLER ON THE COUCH  |  November 27, 2012
    Mahler on the Couch , from the father-and-son directing team of Percy and Felix Adlon, offers some creative speculation, with flashbacks detailing the crisis points of the marriage and snatches from the anguished first movement of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony.
    "Without The Nutcracker , there'd be no ballet in America as we know it."

 See all articles by: JEFFREY GANTZ