in: Reviews

February 23, 2009

More Praise to Levine for “Mozart’s Symphonic Legacy”

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of “Mozart’s Symphonic Legacy” continued last week with the second program, featuring several Salzburg-era works with the concluding Symphony No. 25 in G minor (K. 183/ 173d B), the only well-known and often-played symphony on this program.

Aside from the horn playing, this was orchestral music making of the highest order, and the horns in all fairness did settle down and into the music after the first movement of the rather rudimentary Symphony No. 19 in E-flat Major (K. 132). Anticipating this program, I feared an inordinate dose of too-early Mozart, and although I was not dissuaded completely, it would be difficult to imagine more accomplished and spirited performances. James Levine, looking more fit and upbeat, strode onto stage with more energy than I had seen in past year, my having not set foot in Symphony Hall yet this season. His conducting, still while seated, had an energetic look and feel which was a complete change from two years ago.

In Symphony No. 20 in D Major (K. 133),  the second work on the program, the flutes and strings were ravishing in the second movement as Levine insisted on soft dynamics and coaxed some sublimely shaped phrases, all as light as a beautiful feather. As the old hymn goes “almost persuaded, Lord, to believe,” I came close to feeling that two of these early works were not too much for this program..

In the second half, Symphony No. 21 in A Major (K. 134) made little impression on this listener in spite of an outstanding performance, and pride of place went to the “little” G minor (Symphony No. 25, K. 183/173d B)) as the concluding work. Levine nearly leapt out of his chair for this piece, and the orchestra responded in kind, The penetrating unisons of the opening gave way to the striking pianissimo of the alternate theme with an oboe solo which was a vision of heaven itself: I could not imagine it played more beautifully.

As we look back on five years of Levine’s leadership of the BSO, it is with some surprise that we find three consecutive programs of Mozart Symphonies, a stunning contrast to the long, penetrating and probing concerts of the maestro’s first two years. There will be strong opinions on either side of his repertoire choices, but my abiding impression of this concert is that whatever the repertoire, Boston is blessed indeed to have this astounding genius in charge of our world-class orchestra, and it is good news to know that he has signed another five-year contract.

Brian E. Jones was music director and organist at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, from 1984-2004, He has held interim positions locally at Old South Church and Memorial Church at Harvard and also was director of the Dedham Choral Society for many years.

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