It was an interesting programme, although it swept from bombast to simplicity, from musical pepper to musical peasantry. The atmosphere seemed clearest when Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was reached, although this is by no means the greatest of the nine symphonies of the master. The concert of Saturday began with »Don Juan,« a symphonic poem, by that young musical radical, Richard Strauss. It is an easy matter to attack a work of this kind, for it is overswollen and full of roarings, whether of ecstasy or pain it would be hard to determine. It is in »King Cambyses’ vein« from the very start, for the composer plunges in, with all possible brasses, as much kettledrum as the mascularity of the percussive artist can furnish, an active triangle, piccolo, glockenspiel and cymbals over and above the ordinary orchestra.
But if one pardons the extravagant ardor of youth, and concedes a little to the »Sturm und Drang«, period, there will be found in the work a sufficiency of musical thought and a grand working-up of climaxes. The work is crowded with ideas, many of which jostle each other, and none of which seem to come to a legitimate conclusion, but better wealth than poverty is this direction, and the extreme richness of thought as well as of orchestration gives plenty of promise, even while little of actual fulfilment has yet been attained. The work seems better than the Italian symphony in which Boston first made the acquaintance of the composer, a few years ago, for in that work the sumptuous treatment of a simple Neapolitan folk song was as out of place as the clothing of a Vesuvian guide in silk and velvet would have been.
There are no such incongruities in this composition, but the number of climaxes is rather bewildering, and the following of tender oboe themes (the oboe played very well too) by gruesome dissonances, is rather a meaningless contrast. The modern orchestral tricks are too often resorted to; the muted tones of the horn, the ugliest effects one can evoke from the orchestra, are used with lavish hand, and the theatrical vein was added to by an exaggeration of the rests and the dynamic marks. It was something to go through so difficult a work without an upset, but there was more of enthusiasm than of precision in the performance, and while the two or three catastrophes, and the half dozen explosions with which the work is garnished, were dramatically done, the wind instruments were neither united in attack nor well intoned, and the horn in these days is a very persistent sinner, often overblowing, and trying to make itself into a trombone, like the load that wanted to be an ox. But we ought to be thankful at least that the work was placed on the programme, for it is in the hearing of all the more recent orchestral works (even if they are not all commendable) that we may expect to evoke a spririt of musical comparison and consequent growth.[…]