Sunday, May 15, 2011

Concert Minis #4

It's a hallowed tradition for critics to denigrate Music Directors with memories of their predecessors, and sometimes nostalgia can't be helped. While listening to Marin Alsop's lumbering way with Schumann - beginning at 3:00 today at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall - I couldn't help if memories of David Zinman's refined elegance crept into my mind. Alsop's vision of Schumann has its virtues, but in everything from program to performance it was clear that she doesn't 'get' Schumann. Both the Manfred Overture and Schumann's First Symphony were performed in rearrangements by Gustav Mahler. The changes aren't dramatic, a doubling here and there, but they're enough to strip Schumann of his classical lightness.

(A full-blown romantic, Wilhelm Furtwangler could be relied on to reshape the daintiest classicism into a struggle for life and death.)

This isn't always a bad thing. The moody Manfred Overture acquired a dramatic heft which it often lacks in performances of Schumann's original score. Alsop only helped matters by inserting some Mahlerian shifts in tempo to raise the adrenalin level.

But blunt force turns easily to excess. The heavy-handedness that proved so helpful to Manfred was nearly lethal to Schumann's first two symphonies. The slow movements, with their decrease in activity, proved the most effective. But the rest of the movements sounded like exercises in loud dynamics and raw attacks. Alsop added some nice personal touches to what was written in the scores, but I'd have traded them all for some cleaner ensemble and more dynamic contrast.

(David Zinman 'gets' the balance between Classical and Romantic which Schumann requires.)

Judging from this outing, Marin Alsop plays Schumann as though it's second-rate Mahler. Alsop is frankly a better conductor of the late romantic music than David Zinman ever was. But even at his most volatile, Schumann requires a fastidiousness and restraint which both Alsop and the BSO sounded unwilling to provide. And given the level of Schumann which the BSO used to produce, this was doubly disappointing.

(Zinman talks about Schumann - in English with German subtitles.)

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