A pair of impressive debuts spark Boston Symphony program

April 19, 2019 at 10:49 am

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Francesco Piemontesi performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 19 with Andrew Manze conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night. Photo: Robert Torres

Francesco Piemontesi performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 with Andrew Manze conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night. Photo: Robert Torres

The Boston Symphony Orchestra offered a mostly canonical program of music spotlighting works by Mozart and Mendelssohn Thursday night at Symphony Hall. Yet the performances proved anything but commonplace, with conductor Andrew Manze and pianist Francesco Piemontesi both making impressive BSO debuts.

Part of this owed to Manze’s potent chemistry with the ensemble. A violinist and early-music specialist, Manze’s gestures are big and balletic. Yet the playing he drew from the BSO was anything but merely emphatic or literal: sensitively balanced, rhythmically alert, and fired with expressive purpose.

Indeed, Manze’s interpretations balanced the best qualities of the historically informed tradition – quick tempos, lean textures, incisive articulations – with the full-bodied tone of the modern symphony orchestra.

In Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, which closed the evening, that meant a reading that was both vigorous and discreet.

Written in 1830 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, the “Reformation” Symphony draws on Martin Luther’s hymn, “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,” quoting the chorale at the climax of its finale. This week’s performance featured Christopher Hogwood’s 2009 critical edition of the score, which incorporates a woodwind recitative before the last movement that Mendelssohn cut prior to the premiere in 1832.

It’s not difficult to appreciate why Mendelssohn removed the section, superfluous and interruptive of the symphony’s musical argument as it is. Still, the passage was winningly played by the BSO Thursday, as was the whole work.

Tempos were well judged and the performance was beautifully blended – particularly the woodwind and brass episodes that lead off the outer movements. The stately second movement was roundly colored, the Andante went with a quiet intensity, and the entire performance brimmed with striking dynamic contrasts and tempestuous energy.

A similar focus marked the evening’s traversal of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major. Written in 1784, this is a brilliant, mostly playful score somewhat overshadowed by its successors. This week, though, thanks to Piemontesi’s dynamic pianism, the piece stood tall on its own.

Piemontesi is a pianist of notable technical refinement. His playing is marked by an exceptional command of his instrument’s physical sound as well a strong understanding of the music’s expressive character.

Thursday’s reading of the solo part was crystalline in tone, though never lacking in warmth or fullness of tone. Rather, it was finely balanced: thoughtfully shaped in the first movement, graceful in the slow central one, overflowing with bumptious character in the finale.

Manze led the BSO in an accompaniment of textural clarity and dynamic sensitivity. The last movement’s brilliant fugal writing, in particular, came across with spunky force.

Piemontesi rewarded the ovation that followed with a rich account of Schubert’s “Impromptu in A-flat major” (D. 935), as sturdy and weighted as his Mozart was delicate and ebullient.

Rounding out the night was the BSO premiere of the Łódź-born Grazyna Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra. A 1948 score by Poland’s leading 20th-century female composer, its three movements allude to the neo-Classical style of Stravinsky, while echoes of jazz, Ernst Bloch, and Dmitri Shostakovich permeate its textures.

The first of three movements alternates an aggressive refrain with lyrical solos accompanied by sul ponticello strings. In the languorous middle section, mandolin-like textures and lush, chanting phrases build to a beguiling climax. The last movement is a wild tour de force.

On Thursday, Manze and the BSO delivered a purposeful, captivating performance of Bacewicz’s piece. Its first movement was, by turns, punchy and shimmering. The second floated with delicate warmth, while the finale’s dashing figures spoke with breathtaking clarity.

The program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Symphony Hall. bso.org; 888-266-1200

Posted in Performances


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