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The Boston Symphony Orchestra has been on a roll. Parts of its three weeks of programs related to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death have been memorable, especially the Boston premiere of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s exquisite “let me tell you,” with the marvelous Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan singing the words of Ophelia as suggestively rearranged in the novel of the same name by fiction writer/critic (some people think all critics are fiction writers) Paul Griffiths. This piece forced BSO music director Andris Nelsons to finally divide the first and second violins antiphonally (as previous BSO music director James Levine did at every concert), with telling results. And Nelsons and the BSO just won a best orchestral performance Grammy for their Shostakovich recording.
Before that, guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, returning for two programs after his exciting last-minute substitution for the indisposed Daniele Gatti in 2014, led two weeks of concerts that included an understated but moving Beethoven “Eroica” Symphony (clearly colored by Roth’s interest in early music) and a sensational Stravinsky “Petrushka” that was one of the most thrilling orchestral performances I’ve ever heard (and not just from the BSO).
This weekend, Feb. 18-20, another guest conductor high on the list of Boston favorites, Vladimir Jurowski — principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra whose stinging Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 in 2012 was another BSO highlight — makes his second return since then with a fascinating program of mostly unusual repertoire, including several pieces apparently never performed by the BSO.
The program begins with what will be only the BSO’s third performance of Haydn’s dramatic early three-movement Symphony No. 26 in D-minor, “Lamentatione.” Spoiler alert: no happy ending. Here’s a terrific historical-instrument performance with La Petite Bande led by early-music star Sigiswald Kuijken:
Then there’s another lamentation: the very first BSO performance of the impassioned 1939 “Concerto funebre” for violin and orchestra by the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963), with the 30-year-old Russian-British violinist Alina Ibragimova in her BSO debut. The BSO has played only two Hartmann pieces before this. He was one of the rare anti-fascist musicians to survive living in Germany during World War II. The “Concerto funebre” ends with a chorale in memory of those killed in the Russian Revolution of 1905. Here’s an excellent performance on YouTube conducted by Kurt Sanderling, with the Dutch violinist Theo Olof:
Jurowski continues with more early but not entirely unconflicted Haydn, the Violin Concerto No. 1 in C major (its first BSO performance as far as I can tell from the BSO website), with Ibragimova. Here’s the legendary violinist Arthur Grumiaux with the English Chamber Orchestra led by Raymond Leppard:
The program ends with one of the most delightful pieces in the classical repertoire: Beethoven’s Second Symphony, which may be the piece in which Jurowski’s deep understanding, dazzling rhythmic sense, and sense of humor might be most on display. Here’s Leonard Bernstein’s version with the Vienna Philharmonic:
Vladimir Jurowski conducts the BSO at Boston’s Symphony Hall Feb. 18-20. For more information and tickets, visit the BSO’s website.
Lloyd Schwartz is a music critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and senior editor of Classical Music for New York Arts. Longtime classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1994. He is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @LloydSchwartz.
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