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An Evening of Russian Classics

In the Midst of the Lunar Eclipse, BSO Enchants

By Sonja Sharpe

staff writer

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Hans Graf, conductor

Claudio Bohorquez, cello

Symphony Hall

Nov. 8, 8 p.m.

Under the auspice of the lunar eclipse, the Boston Symphony Orchestra delighted its audience this past Saturday evening with a wonderful concert consisting of three works from two celebrated Russian composers, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich.

The evening began with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy, “The Tempest.” Inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Tchaikovsky’s version also begins at sea. The sea is unmistakable as such, beautifully rendered in musical form by the soft undulations of the strings. The power of the sorcerer Prospero, who controls the action in the play, is then represented in the music with horns and a grand tune as he commands the spirit Ariel to raise a tempest.

Just as the lunar eclipse outside reached its full grandeur, so did the orchestra, creating as real a tempest as can be musically described, with fast, punctuated music that relied heavily on brass and drums. As the tempest subsides, the love theme between Miranda, Prosperos daughter, and Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples, takes shape, at first light and almost fluffy, then becoming more impassioned as the piece progresses.

The Tempest then ends where it began, on the sea, which was again wonderfully portrayed by the strings. The piece as a whole is loose in structure and moves much like a film score. Indeed, images from “Casablanca” often came to mind, particularly during the love theme. Overall, “The Tempest” is an engaging and enjoyable musical fantasy, and the half hour that it took the orchestra to play it felt much more like ten minutes.

In contrast, the next work performed by the orchestra was Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat. Although this piece also moves at times with both fast-paced energy and slower, more contemplative motion, it hardly evokes images of joy or lightheartedness. The draw of this work is without question the solo performance of the cello, which is really best experienced by viewing a live performance, to see the soloist at work in person. Soloist Claudio Bohorquez was mesmerizing in this piece, displaying an astounding range and technical capability that transformed the cello at times into a fiddle and at times into multiple cellos, as if the soloist were playing a duet with himself. It was truly an amazing performance.

The final piece of the evening was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, or “Little Russian.” Little Russia was a nickname given to the Ukraine by the Russian tsars, and since Tchaikovsky used several Ukrainian folk tunes in this symphony, the name was applied to this work, as well. The piece as a whole is energetic and exciting, alternating between light and majestic sections.

The finale is almost overly grand, moving between the splendid, imperial power of the horns and drums and the frolicking lightness of the strings, which carry a folk tune called “The Crane.” The entire piece ends with what can best be described as the musical equivalent of an exclamation point, and which also served as the perfect ending to the evening itself.