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DVD review

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas, ‘Ives’

IVES: Three Places in New England; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4; WAGNER: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas

ICA Classics DVD

Michael Tilson Thomas made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 22, 1969, when, as assistant conductor, he replaced an indisposed William Steinberg in the middle of a New York concert. Less than three months later, in January of 1970, the mop-topped conductor gave the first of the three performances preserved on this DVD – a brisk and authoritative reading of Ives’s “Three Places in New England,” which was still unknown territory for most orchestras. Tilson Thomas, only 25 at the time, is remarkably comfortable with Ives’s polyrhythms and attuned to his stylistic mashups. In “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” he elicits wonderfully atmospheric playing from the orchestra. He would go on to record the Ives with the BSO shortly afterward, and it’s still a standard-setter.

The Sibelius and Wagner works were recorded two months later, on March 10; they are found nowhere else in the conductor’s discography, so their inclusion alone would give this DVD its historical value. The performances aren’t quite as convincing as the Ives, but the Sibelius has plenty of dark drama, thanks partly to Tilson Thomas’s urgent conducting style and partly to some reinforcements to the composer’s scoring. (I count eight horns in the orchestra; Sibelius calls for four.) There are exquisite solos from principal cello Jules Eskin and principal flute Doriot Anthony Dwyer. The Wagner is lean and exciting, though the performance of Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra,” which preceded it on the program, might have been of even greater historical value. (It was apparently not recorded for broadcast by WGBH-TV.) This is nevertheless an important document of the early stages of a crucial Boston partnership.

David Weininger can be reached at globeclassicalnotes@gmail.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version incorrectly referred to Michael Tilson Thomas’s debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was his New York debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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