MIT Symphony OrchestraThe MIT Symphony Orchestra put in a mixed performance on Saturday night. Mozart's Overture to The Impresario is a snappy piece, and should be done with both drive and humor. The orchestra demonstrated neither quality in a performance that lagged and lacked coordination. Mozart played raw is simply not Mozart at all.
Matters improved greatly, however, for Scriabin's Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 20. The orchestra provided a colorful opening, and soloist Abbott Ruskin entered with a performance that was fluent and free-ranging. Ruskin endowed the work with a lyrical romanticism -- as is appropriate to an early Scriabin work such as this. His playing was fiercely independent -- he seemed to become completely absorbed in his music -- but the orchestra nonetheless provided a cohesive backdrop to his playing, its subtly shifting textures adding illumination to the soloist's part. The velvety-romantic outlook with which the strings introduced the Andante was beautiful; the subtle but alert wind playing in the Allegro moderato gave the movement a breezy feeling that provided lift for the build-up to the exhilarating finale.
There were major problems, however, for the performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, which wound up the evening.
Alan Yamamoto -- replacing an ill David Epstein -- had rehearsed the orchestra only hours earlier, leaving them exhausted for the concert itself, according to a member of the orchestra interviewed after the concert. Yamamoto had also chosen rather different tempi from those rehearsed by the orchestra's regular conductor, and this change may have led to the confusion which ensued: The strings were seriously strained for much of the piece, and it was a hopeless task for Yamamoto to attempt to keep them together.
There were some pleasant spells, though: The third movement pizzicato had charm to it; winds added a quintessentially Russian color to the piece in several passages, and there were also moments of impressive brass and percussion playing. Overall, though, the piece came across as untidy and pushed: Yamamoto would have done better to have foregone some fortissimo in favor of a more restrained and carefully-shaped reading which would have been less likely to overtax MIT's frequently profound, often brilliant, but nonetheless young and sensitive orchestra.
The Boston Lyric Opera Company embarked on an adventurous double-bill last Friday, but floundered in the first half. Walton's Fa,cade puts three actors on stage to narrate poems by Edith Sitwell, while Walton's music plays. John Balme conducted the orchestra, and brought out some wonderfully evocative music. Each player in the chamber-sized band seemed to be a virtuoso in his own right, and performed with vigor and style. But the life of the music was not matched by the poetry from on stage: Although William Cavness did somewhat better than Kristin Linklater and Richard Conrad, none of the three distinguished themselves. A lack of care in pronunciation made one word slur into the next, making it impossible to discern what was being said. The lack of clarity was heightened by poor amplification. So some pregnantly funny words and lines were lost on the audience.
Poulenc's La Voix Humaine came across much better. Anna Gabrielli sang the only part in Cocteau's play of "one act, one room, one character, love and that banal property of modern plays, the telephone."
Gabrielli's frenzied discourse with a lover whom we have to imagine had a gripping effect. We watched her as she appeared to be stifling herself, as her personal space appeared to become increasingly constricted, and the physically unchanging room shrank emotionally to unbearably claustrophobic proportions. Gabrielli's emotionally-charged singing drew the audience into the piece; firm orchestral playing added effect.