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Music Review

BSO divines the drama in Strauss's ordinary day

reuters/file 2006Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos of Spain focused on the music's primal forces. reuters/file 2006Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos of Spain focused on the music's primal forces. (reuters/file 2006)
By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / October 31, 2008
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The Spanish conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is back on the podium of the Boston Symphony Orchestra this week and next. In recent seasons, he has had a very regular presence at Symphony Hall, most recently ticking through the tone poems of Richard Strauss one by one. Last night he arrived at Strauss's massive portrait of his own family life, the "Symphonia Domestica."

But before being asked to eavesdrop on the Strauss clan, the audience was given a performance of Brahms's mighty Violin Concerto. Leonidas Kavakos was the scheduled soloist, leading one to approach this Brahms with high expectations. This impressive Greek violinist has all the familiar virtuoso equipment, yet he is also an uncommonly imaginative and eloquent player.

Perhaps last night was an off night, but this listener was hoping for more. While Kavakos gave a technically fluid and often shapely account of the solo line, his playing was interpretively unfocused, and short on expressive urgency.

This is a piece in which most fiddle players come charging out of the gate, but in the opening movement, Kavakos took almost 10 minutes before coming across as fully engaged, and his playing, while heating up for occasional solo statements, never really caught fire. The high-flying rhapsodic moments, such as the passage immediately following the cadenza, seemed short on both poetry and pathos. Through most of the work, the chemistry with Frühbeck was minimal, but by the third movement, Kavakos seemed at least more at home, digging into this earthy music with a commanding authority.

After intermission, it was all about Strauss. Literally. In this most curious of tone poems, the composer chose to forgo grand mythic topics or weighty existential themes, and instead gave vivid symphonic life to an ordinary day with his wife and son. We hear the baby's bath, a bedtime under protest, a heated love scene, and even some bickering over breakfast the next morning.

Strauss calls for an immense orchestra, and Frühbeck's reading focused on the music's broad contours and primal forces more than on textural subtleties or clarity of detailing. The BSO did not let him down, mustering both heft and tonal depth. The inventive double fugue that erupts over breakfast was particularly brilliant.

Who needs Wagnerian gods, Strauss seems to be saying, when you have the drama of everyday life. As most new parents will confess, an average day can be epic enough.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.

MUSIC REVIEW

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

At: Symphony Hall, last night

(repeats today, tomorrow,

and Tuesday)

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