Notes and Editorial Reviews
TILSON THOMAS CONDUCTS IVES, SIBELIUS AND WAGNER
Charles Ives: Orchestral Set No. 1, “3 Places in New England”
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 63
Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Recorded live at the Symphony Hall, Boston, 1970
- Interview with Michael Tilson Thomas, 1970 & 2013
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: Enhanced Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Booklet notes: English, French, German
Running time: 104 mins
R E V I E W: 3741770.az_IVES_Three_Places_New.html
IVES Three Places in New England1. SIBELIUS Symphony No. 42. WAGNER Götterdämmerung: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey2 • Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Boston SO • ICA 5111 (DVD: 104:08+31:00) Live: Boston 11/13/1970, 23/10/1970
Tilson Thomas interviews (1970 and 2013)
It’s a shock to see what might pass for a teenaged Michael Tilson Thomas bounding to the podium in Boston’s Symphony Hall. Actually, he was an old man of 25 at the time of these broadcasts, and already an experienced conductor. He obviously had definite ideas about what he wanted to do with these works, and the skills to go ahead and do it.
Tilson Thomas made a terrific recording of the Ives in Boston, also in 1970, and this live performance is very similar. What strikes me about Tilson Thomas’s approach to this score is how sharp he keeps its rhythmic and harmonic outlines. He conducts it like chamber music, and no detail is allowed to vanish into an Impressionist haze. The whiffs of African-American spirituals in the first movement are more noticeable than in any other recording I know, and the second movement, if it lacks something of the boyish joy that Ormandy (for example) brought to it, never sounds congested. Tilson Thomas also makes much of the eerie, flickering colors with which Ives painted “The Housatonic at Stockbridge.” Overall, this performance has a strong impact, both musically and emotionally.
A few months later Tilson Thomas conducted Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony, which the BSO had not played in 30 years. Because Tilson Thomas never recorded this Symphony—has he recorded any Sibelius at all, other than the Violin Concerto?—I was very curious to hear it. My curiosity was rewarded with one of the strangest yet, in its way, most compelling performances of this work that I have heard so far. Especially in the second and fourth movements, the music zips along with incredible impetuousness. The second movement really does sound like a Scherzo, and the fourth movement moves forward with inexorable kinetic energy. Even the forbidding first movement is made to seem less stark than usual. A Symphony commonly regarded as dark and brooding seems much less so in Tilson Thomas’s reading. This won’t be a reading for everyone, but the only detail I really questioned was the use of both tubular bells and glockenspiel in the last movement. The former are so loud than I kept running to my front door and asking, “Who is it?” It’s wonderful, though, to hear the characteristic Boston sound being applied to this work.
Similarly, Wagner is not a composer generally associated with Tilson Thomas, but in fact he spent the summer of 1966 as an assistant conductor at the Bayreuth Festival at the invitation of Wagner’s granddaughter. (As he relates in his interview from 2013, it was this “gig” that resulted, by a series of fortunate circumstances, in his eventually becoming the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s assistant director.) Wagner is even less a prominent in the conductor’s discography than Sibelius. Even so, this “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” is completely convincing, even if it doesn’t follow the status quo. (The opening pages are almost static, but as Siegfried journeys further and further down the Rhine, it blossoms into an exciting, joyous ride, and one in which bombast has no place.) Here and in the Sibelius, there are some moments of imperfect ensemble and intonation, but otherwise, the standard of playing is very high.
I believe that Boston’s WGBH originally broadcast these programs. The colors look a little washed out, but apart from that, it is surprising how well everything has held up, including the sound. Even though it is monaural (“enhanced,” according to ICA Classics), it still has plenty of juice and depth.
The earlier interview, with Andrew Raeburn, is short, lasting just over four minutes, and is devoted almost entirely to the Sibelius. In the later interview (27:00), recorded last June, Tilson Thomas talks about his early career, and recalls the many fine conductors and orchestral musicians he worked with in Boston. Both are fun to watch, but it’s the music-making that counts, of course, and there’s much here to attract admirers of the conductor and the repertoire.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in A minor, Op. 63 by Jean Sibelius
Michael Tilson Thomas
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1911; Finland
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