I wasn't really hankering for another orchestra concert the day after seeing the PSO in Pittsburgh, but when James Levine and the Boston Symphony come to town, I can hardly keep myself away. They opened Monday's concert at at Carnegie with Elliott Carter's Dialogues for piano (2003), which pits the piano (played here by the always-exciting Pierre-Laurent Aimard) in an ongoing quarrel with the orchestra. It came both as no surprise and never-ending wonder that Carter - who turned 101 in December - strode up to the stage afterwards to take his curtain call in person. "I hope I'm still ambulatory at that age," Steve said to me. (The BSO was also here in 2008 to celebrate Carter's 100th birthday; pics here.)
The last three works on the program reflected the BSO's - and Levine's - penchant for French music. Berlioz' Harold In Italy (1834) is a big romantic symphony with an autobiographical program loosely based on a Byronic poem. I usually like Berlioz, but this felt surprisingly pale and bombastic - with the notable exception of the slow "March of the Pilgrims," in which the solo viola (played by BSO principal Steven Ansell) sounded almost Glass-like in its simplicity and irrepressible beauty.After intermission, Aimard came back to play Maurice Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand (1930): a masterpiece written for the Austrian concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his arm in World War I. (For decades, the concerto was the calling card of pianist Leon Fleisher, who only recently regained the use of his right hand in performance.) The orchestration is challenging and serious; the solo pianist part is so difficult, so virtuosic, you would swear Aimard was playing with two hands.
The concert ended with Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 (1912): a passionate, intense work he extracted from a ballet written several years earlier. It was lush and dreamlike, almost cinematic in scope, building to a soaring climax that Levine let rip like a race horse. With the full complement of the BSO onstage, it was hard to imagine another orchestra sounding bigger - or better. Music like this I could listen to any given night.