Concert Review | Boston Symphony Orchestra opens season with powerful show
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 01:09
As of last Saturday, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is officially back in town for its 132nd season, and, hopefully, this will be their last year without a musical director. Since James Levine resigned in 2011 for health reasons, the BSO has been lacking leadership. However, audiences are now eagerly awaiting the arrival of 34-year-old Andris Nelsons, the youngest musical director to be appointed to the BSO in over 100 years, who will begin his contract in the 2014-2015 season. The opening night concert seemed to reflect this excitement for fresh, young energy on the horizon, with Augustin Hadelich taking the helm on the violin solo in the Brahms “Double Concerto.”
Hadelich was accompanied by acclaimed cellist Alban Gerhardt and pre-eminent conductor, Christoph von Dohnányi, who have both previously performed with the BSO. The evening’s all-Brahms program began with his “Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102,” followed by the much loved “Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73.” Brahms composed the concerto for his friend, the virtuosic violinist Joseph Joachim. During the conception of this piece, Brahms spoke of it as an “amusing idea” and wrote to fellow composer Clara Schumann about the “pranks one can play” in the situation of writing such a work for a friend. As light-hearted as this piece is in comparison to Brahms’ other, more mature compositions, “Op. 102” is certainly not a walk in the park for the soloists — indeed, there are cadenza-like passages seemingly on every turn of the page.
Gerhardt was the first to enter the concerto following the powerful, striking orchestral introduction. Gerhardt’s interpretation of Brahms’ original work was free but nuanced, playful yet precise. Regrettably, Gerhardt did not seem concerned with ensuring that his sound projected to the back of the hall and was, at times, completely drowned out by the sound of the orchestra. On the other hand, Hadelich’s playing seemed much more aggressive — an impression that was undoubtedly helped by the fact that a violin’s sound floats above the rest of the orchestra with more ease. Although the players were clearly playing actively off of one another and channeling the push-and-pull of the dynamic duet writing, Hadelich seemed to be leading Gerhardt by a hair’s breadth.
Dohnányi supported the soloists by holding the orchestra under tight reins. Though this made for an immaculate performance, there were moments when the concert could have benefitted by allowing Gerhardt and Hadelich a little more space. Overall, Dohnányi deftly lead the ensemble through the concerto, emphasizing Brahms’ particularly angular musical cadence. The last movement in particular boasted precise, accentuated rhythms contrasted by swelling lyrical lines, which Dohnányi coaxed out to the fullest. Ultimately, it was an energetic end, well received by the audience.
The second half of the program consisted of the esteemed “Symphony No. 2,” written during Brahms’ highly productive summer vacation in 1877. With all four movements grounded in major keys, the work is a deceptively happy, seemingly sweet pastoral symphony. In reality, Brahms wrote the symphony during a particularly dark and melancholic part of his life, when he was plagued by fears of being unable to live up to the greatness of the composers who came before him.
During their performance, Dohnányi and the members of the BSO seemed well aware of Brahms’ original feelings and intentions, emphasizing the emotional highs and lows of the symphony. Although the opening was unsteady and almost tentative, Dohnányi quickly brought the ensemble together, producing a truly lush sound that filled the entire hall. The composite sound allowed the exquisite playing of the wind and brass sections to shine through, while the complex polyphony among the string sections was still clearly audible. Dohnányi deftly led the orchestra through the movements, taking full advantage of Brahms’ lyricism within the mosaic of layered voices.
The third movement ushered in a rather fast tempo, showcasing the technical abilities of the world-class musicians in the BSO. They played immaculately, with a life and vigor that brought the audience to the edge of their seats as they continued into the fourth movement. Here, Dohnányi brought the orchestra back to a slower pace under his strict baton, letting the lavish harmonies breathe and swell. Yet, at the end of the symphony Dohnányi satisfyingly released the brass, which played their grand chorale with a spectacular finish of unbridled energy.
With a brilliant opening performance, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s season is off to a strong, dynamic start. The program will be repeated tonight at 8:00 p.m. For tickets, visit www.bso.org. And remember: When purchasing tickets online, use the “20under40” promotion to buy qualifying ticket levels for only $20.