The rest of the program was Richard Strauss's witty and dramatic autobiographical tone poem Ein Heldenleben ("A Hero's Life" — no modesty here, false or otherwise). Here we have the artist fighting the stupid critics (those nasty woodwinds), and the artist's volatile and loving wife (concertmaster Malcolm Lowe playing her eloquent extended soliloquy, though perhaps emphasizing Pauline's more masculine side). The huge orchestra sounded gorgeously engorged, but though Frühbeck de Burgos has made something of a specialty of this piece, it lacked some element of mercurial intimacy, which the very best performances invariably have.

I hate to sound tiresome on this subject, but once again, I missed James Levine's seating arrangement, having the first and second violins on opposite sides of the stage. So far, that plan has been totally absent all season. Of course, it's harder to conduct the two sections as separate groups, and it's harder for the players, too, because each section has to listen more attentively. This was one of Levine's major priorities when he took over the orchestra, and everyone made a huge effort to make it work. It worked! It's really sad to see this fall by the wayside, and the longer the orchestra goes without it, the harder it will be to retrieve.

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