New recording captures James Levine, Boston Symphony in fine form
It’s from the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s own label, BSO Classics – an all-Mozart, two-CD release conducted by music director James Levine. Remember James Levine? Assorted physical problems have kept him absent from duty so often and for such long periods of time – lately for back surgery – that he’s frequently the source of speculation and consternation. A recent editorial in the Boston Globe more or less suggested that Levine and the orchestra should be prepared to part ways soon if his nagging medical problems continue.
The Metropolitan Opera has to be a little nervous these days, too, since Levine holds a key musical post there as well, and another season spotted with his canceled podium appearances would likely cause considerable gnashing of teeth in that august house. I can’t recall seeing any updates in quite a while about the conductor’s progress, health-wise. I imagine word will be coming soon enough, though, since
This summer, he was to have been a significant presence at Tanglewood, the idyllic spot in the Berkshires where the Boston Symphony makes its off-season home, but he had to scrap those plans along with so many others. This new Mozart recording provides a reminder of how this orchestra can shine with Levine, and why so many people have been so heartily wishing this guy a speedy recovery.
These live performances, taped in Boston’s iconic Symphony Hall in February 2009, balance symphonies from Mozart’s teen years – Nos. 14, 18 and 20 – with two of his last three symphonic efforts, Nos. 39 and 41. It’s good to be reminded of the many qualities in those early symphonies, and it’s rewarding to hear the two war horses given such refreshing, stylish treatment. Levine taps into the lyrical beauty of each score with satisfying results, while never slighting propulsion or clarity of texture. The music is alive with nuance, energy, character.
Levine’s affection for Mozart shines through in every measure of what are essentially old-fashioned performances – the kind that orchestras gave before the historical authenticity movement swung into high gear – and he inspires in the Bostonians seemingly effortless refinement of tone and articulation, considerable expressive richness of phrasing.
If all goes well, conductor and orchestra will soon be back on the same productive path together.