High Numbers

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  November 16, 2006

It’s also a work Zander and the Philharmonic were born to play, because it thrives on their trademark ferocious attacks, guillotine-sharp transitions, and all-stops-pulled-out climaxes, as well on a kind of Mahleresque delicacy in the depiction of nature (twitterings, chirpings, and the sense of things growing). The folk-like second movement made me think of Robert Frost’s intimate close-up of nature in the midst of human conflict: “The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung” (“Range-Finding,” also 1916).

Both the Emperor and the Inextinguishable have happy endings. Nielsen’s is perhaps the more willed, but the performance, its ambiguities intact, earned Zander’s hands-in-the-air expression of victory at the end.

f More than 13,000 people paid between $15 and $175 to hear Luciano Pavarotti at the Boston Garden last Sunday. What they got was the beloved tenor in 10 short arias and songs plus five short encores — hardly 40 minutes of singing — interspersed among three long opera overtures conducted by Leone Magiera and two endless numbers featuring pretty-boy flutist Andrea Griminelli (with his shock of pompadour and leg thrust out, was he playing Carmen or playing Carmen?).

There was inevitably something of a circus atmosphere. Souvenir booklets, sweatshirts, and popcorn were being hawked. Applause was frequent and often at the wrong moments. “I love you,” someone screamed between the opening phrases of “O Paradiso!” — which is perhaps what caused Pavarotti to lose his concentration and hit the sourest note I’ve ever heard him sing. An important high note in “Pourquoi me reveiller,” the soaring lyric aria from Massenet’s Werther, nearly cracked shortly after a phone started to ring during a hushed passage.

The concert was presented by Las Vegas entrepreneur Tibor Rudas, and it was not long on artistic values. The amplification system gave us a reasonable facsimile of Pavarotti’s voice, but it was not as good as a recording, and it made the orchestra sound like an old 78rpm shellac. You could hardly tell which instrument you were hearing.

Twelve summers ago, in a legendary Pops concert on the Esplanade (used as footage for his movie, Yes, Giorgio), Pavarotti demonstrated his skill at using a microphone. “Pourquoi me reveiller” was one of the most gorgeous stretches of tenor singing I’d ever heard. At his stadium events, amplification allows him to sing — even croon — more softly than he ever could in a concert hall. But it exaggerates the dryness of an aging voice. And this time, it also allowed him to coast.

Remembering the Esplanade, I was looking forward to hearing what else he’s learned to do with a microphone. The answer is: very little. As always, he did the second verse of “O sole mio” pianissimo. But he sang everything pretty straightforwardly. There was as little real playing with the electronic medium as there was adventure in the selections or spontaneity in the interpretation. And though he was in relatively good voice, there was also something stingy about not only the program but the delivery. He rarely seemed all the way inside the music. And he just wasn’t putting out.

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