When a person or an orchestra performs classical works, they are expected not only to use expert technique but also to express the theme of the piece and evoke an emotional response. Last Saturday, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and guest pianist Evgeny Kissin succeeded in this regard with their interpretation of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” honoring the memories of some of Russia’s greatest composers.
The concert began on a strong note with a dramatic rendition of the first movement of the 9th Symphony. The clear sounds of the flute coalesced to resemble the morning trill of a bird, and the string and brass sections came together in nearly anthemic harmony to reflect the patriotic sentiment behind the piece. Likewise, the transition between the first and second movements led the Allegro smoothly into the Moderato, with the orchestra keeping focus on the darker mood of the piece by blending to legato from a pronounced staccato.
In comparison to the skillful execution of the Shostakovich, the BSO’s interpretation of “Symphonic Dances” felt lacking. The orchestra sacrificed precision for sentimentality, and so the crescendos seemed no longer as dramatic, the sound no longer as lively; the piece threatened to lull audience members to sleep instead of awakening them to the new music being played. As the piece came to an end, however, the orchestra was ultimately able to bring the music to life again with its sudden incorporation of heavy brass and triangles.
But it was Kissin’s highly musical interpretation of Tchaikovsky that stole the show, as he bridged the gaps between forte and piano, dramatic chords and soft notes, while tailoring his playing perfectly to that of the orchestra. Kissin’s rendition of the introduction was uncommonly expressive—evoking ideas of love, pain, and excitement through the force and confidence with which the pianist executed the opening chords. The melodic contributions of the orchestra further complemented Kissin’s virtuosity, taking the piece through countless emotional highs and lows. It was no surprise that the audience clamored for more, prompting Kissin to return for an encore in the middle of the concert.
By the evening’s close, it was evident that this concert had achieved its goal in exploring the themes and lives that inspired these definitive pieces. With its wonderfully executed and emotionally satisfying Saturday show, the Boston Symphony Orchestra opened its 2015-2016 season on a high note.
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