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Concert Review | Boston Symphony Hall showcases Mozart rendition

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 08:02


Goosebump-inducing is a succinct way to describe Saturday night’s performance at Symphony Hall with soloist Radu Lupu and conductor Christoph von Dohnányi. On the program was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K.488 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E-flat, “Romantic.”

In addition to numerous other achievements, Lupu has taken first place in both the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. Indeed, his esteem is well deserved. One of the last times the Boston Symphony played a concerto this well was Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto under the baton of Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena.

The Mozart Piano Concerto is modestly scored for one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings. Even without the usual firepower of trumpets and timpani, Mozart managed to craft a piece of incredible charm and harmonic breadth. In no way is this a technical challenge for the performers as the brilliance of the Mozart Piano Concerto is found in its finesse rather than in its virtuosity.

The first movement is a typical sonata-form movement. Here, Lupu demonstrated a clear understanding of all aspects of the piece. In flawless time, he awaited cues from the flute, clarinets, and bassoons. It is all too common to hear the giant Steinway drown out the flute. On Saturday night, however, this was not the case. Lupu’s masterful control allowed for well-balanced counterpoint and dialogue. This concord contributed to a first movement that was colorful and filled with character.

The most spine-chilling movement was the lyrical and introspective second movement. Program writer for the Boston Symphony Michael Steinberg likens the pianist in the unusually dark second movement to an opera singer.

Lupu opened with a soft and isolated passage before the orchestra came in in sonorous tutti. The wonderful dissonances in this movement were just as poignant as they were beautiful. The lack of dialogue between pianist and orchestra in this movement put Lupu under the spotlight to carry the weight of the piece. 

The lack of written dynamics in this movement, dragged it on for quite a long time. Nevertheless, Lupu gave a nuanced but captivating interpretation using penetrating texture.

If the second movement gave the illusion of time standing still, the third revived the audience with life and cheer once more. In conventional rondo form, the third movement brought back the liveliness of the first as well as the freedom of the second. The addictive and leaping main theme delighted the audience repeatedly, as its return was wholly welcome.

Emphasized by the absence of timpani and trumpets, Saturday’s performance of Mozart Piano Concerto showcased the unity of a chamber performance with the strength of an orchestra. Though Lupu was certainly the star of the night, Dohnányi deserves a great deal of credit as well. His clear style of conducting and handling of tempo kept the piece crisp and refreshing. Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 was one of the more bombastic and heavy pieces. Contrary to what Bruckner may have been thinking, simply playing loudly and softly is not cohesive to composing. Usually when composers reintroduce themes in later movements, it gives a sense of cohesiveness throughout the work. In this case, the monotonous themes that reappeared throughout the entire piece offered little contrast.

That said, the Boston Symphony played a dull and repetitive piece to the best that it could have been played. It was here that Dohnányi was able to showcase his control over the orchestra. He was able to summon the full Boston Symphony dynamism for the Bruckner. Unfortunately, it just was not a good piece to showcase much other than that.

Regardless, Saturday night was worth braving the snow just for the Mozart. Lupu’s skill can hardly be overstated. 

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