Even on a rainy Friday afternoon, the Box Office lines at Symphony Hall stretched long with people eager to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its guest soloist, piano virtuoso Murray Perahia. Despite these trying circumstances, the excellent concert made the trip to the BSO well-worth its efforts.
Perahia's execution of the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, while not dramatic, was very sweet, lyrical and expressive. Likewise, his entrance onto the stage was not flashy, but down-to-earth, as though he wanted to get straight to the business of making music. The concerto itself, composed in 1786, has an unusually symphonic style for the classical era; the only Mozart concer- to with both oboe and clarinet parts, it foreshadows the style of the next generation. Beethoven admired it immensely: upon first hearing the concerto, he cried to a fellow composer, "Cramer, Cramer, we shall never be able to do anything like that!"
The first movement has an unusual, slightly ear-jarring opening, and quickly develops all its themes at once. The orchestra sometimes seemed to overpower the soloist, but the fault may have been with the piano itself, which had a muddy quality that was not conducive to fortissimo passages or soaring clarity of sound. Perahia performed his own cadenza, which displayed a wonderful range of emotions and beautiful nuances.
The second and third movements he performed with a romanticism that was almost Chopin-esque in its style. But this particular interpretation of Mozart lost none of its charm. The woodwinds tended to rush in the excitement of the third movement, but in all the orchestra did an excellent job of accompanying Perahia.
The orchestra itself began its program with another piece by Mozart: the Overture to The Magic Flute. One of his last works, composed in the summer of 1791, The Magic Flute tells the tale of lovers in the struggle between good and evil in a magical world. The overture itself begins with a drawn-out progression of three chords, which add an overarching solemnness to the otherwise warm and lighthearted mood of the piece. Mozart develops his musical ideas in a straightforward way, referring only once to the music within the opera. Filling in for BSO Principal Guest Conductor Bernard Haitink, Andrew Davis carried off a fabulous execution of this overture. The orchestra achieved a beautiful, warm tone, but still managed to capture all the playfulness of the piece.
After intermission, the audience was jarred out of its complacency by Davis' powerful rendition of the Prokofiev Symphony No. 6. Prokofiev composed this symphony in the years 1944 to 1947, and it bears many of the influences of what the Russians call the "Great Patriotic War" (known to us as World War II). It can be considered a case study of the different aesthetic views of the East and the West at the start of the Cold war. As one critic wrote of it, "It is one of the most beautiful, most exalted of [Prokofiev's] works...this great work shows once again how immeasurably superior Soviet music is to the music of the Capitalist West." Ironically, aside from a few such critics, the symphony had a poor reception in the Soviet Union, and thus was not published until 1949--in New York.
The first movement has a dramatic trumpet entrance, and is followed throughout the section with dark urgency. The BSO conveyed these emotions ably, exhibiting an impressive dynamic range. In particular, the timpanist threw his energy into the unusual parts scored for him, and successfully conveyed the excitement of the work.
The second movement "Largo" continues the both the warmth and the darkness of tone, but with a more brooding aspect. Throughout were hints of dirrerent military sounds, jarring sorrowfully together. At times the orchestra seemed overly lugubrious, but the interesting interspersions of piano and harp added to the variety of this section.
The third movement opens with a quick, exciting string passage, and overall conveys a morehopeful tone than its preceding movements. There is a regular, bouncy rhythm echoing throughout the different sections of the orchestra--about as bouncy as Prokofiev could ever write. There is a meditative scene in the midst of this action that the orchestra portrayed very gracefully. But it quickly turns back to marching notes of stridency and urgency--and the symphony ends with a bang, not a whimper.
It was a bang that achieved its total effect, decisively ending a most successful performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.