Year in Classical: Celebrate!

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  December 22, 2008

Mark Morris, musician
The Celebrity Series of Boston imported Mark Morris's revival of his Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell's great 17th-century opera, which tells in a quarter of the time the same story Berlioz dramatized. At the 1989 Boston premiere, the late Craig Smith conducted the Emmanuel Music chorus and orchestra and the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sang Dido. This year the superb Emmanuel musicians were back, and Morris himself conducted. Morris is the most musical of contemporary choreographers, and his sparkling conducting reinforced that opinion.

More Kurt Weill
The Cantata Singers' year-long tribute to Kurt Weill continued with such ambitious and delightful events as Lynn Torgove's wittily semi-staged Weill Cabaret. Music director David Hoose paired Weill with Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem and Charles Fussell's soaring High Bridge. And Richard Conrad's the Bostonians gave a Weill-on-Broadway concert that featured marvelous Delores Ziegler as psychologically challenged Liza Elliott in scintillating excerpts from Lady in the Dark, the role in which she blew me away in Conrad's complete 2000 revival.

Keyboard magic
I heard three memorable recitals by Russell Sherman, Boston's presiding piano guru: Bach (with an emotionally colored Sarabande in the third English Suite), Liszt's Transcendental Études (a musical rather than simply a technical feat), and Schumann (a wide-ranging, improvisational Arabesque, a subtly mercurial Kreisleriana, and a large-scaled C-major Fantasie). Daniel Barenboim and James Levine played Schubert's exquisite F-minor Fantasy. And the Celebrity Series brought back Slovenian pianist Dubravka Tomsic in incandescent Chopin, Scarlatti, and Beethoven.

Chamber and Hall
Mariss Jansons led Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a Celebrity Series concert that had more to say about some BSO favorites — Debussy's La mer and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique — than the BSO itself did. In a Bach concerto with Benjamin Zander's Boston Philharmonic, violinist Gilles Apap and oboist Peggy Pearson didn't have much to say to each other. But Apap excelled in Zander's urgent and loving Berg Violin Concerto, and Pearson, violinist Ida Levin, violist Marcus Thompson, and cellist Rhonda Rider, in a Boston Chamber Music Society program of great left-of-center Mozart, played some of the most gravely charming Wolfgang I've ever heard.

Comings and goings
An unusual number of cancellations this year. Just after his moving rendition of Schubert's Winterreise, German baritone Thomas Quasthoff sang only one of his scheduled Schubert song performances with the BSO and was replaced by a Brahms serenade. Tenor Ben Heppner, who had to be replaced in the Met's Tristan, replaced an ailing Johan Botha in the BSO's Das Lied von der Erde. When the flu forced Leon Fleisher to cancel one of his performances of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto under BSO assistant conductor Julian Kuerti, Anton Kuerti, Julian's famous dad, stepped in to make his BSO debut (at 69); it was a thrilling collaboration. The younger Kuerti made front-page news when he stepped in for temperamental Russian maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who quit in the midst of rehearsals, offended by the way the BSO had publicized — or failed to publicize — him. And it was the Russian piece on the program — Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony — at which Kuerti particularly excelled.

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