in: Reviews

October 10, 2014

Zacharias, Schubert, Mozart: A Trifecta

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Christian Zacharias conducts from keyboard (Stu Rosner phboto)

Christian Zacharias conducts from keyboard (Stu Rosner phboto)

Christian Zacharias conducted the BSO in Schubert’s Incidental Music from Rosamunde (D. 797) and the Symphony in B Minor, Unfinished (D. 759); he doubled as soloist, conducting from the keyboard, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453. It was a thoughtful tour de force.

Formally, Schubert’s Incidental Music to Rosamunde—Ballet Music I, Entr’acte II, and Entr’acte III—lack the constraints of sonata or symphony. A presenter’s initial challenge is to perform these incidental excerpts without the generally-disparaged drama by Wilhelmine von Chézy. Then there is the challenge inherent in championing somewhat neglected works bof Schubert; as Swafford’s program note puts it, “Schubert’s operas and other theater music . . . . is [sic] not that interesting, at least when it comes to seizing and holding the ears of history” and even the valiant protestations of Shubertians cannot keep these works in the limelight. For his part, Zacharias paced these selections well, maintaining a consistent rhythm as befits ballet in the first number. The parts and voices were so ordered that the whole flowed organically and seamlessly. Entr’acte II created its own drama of tension and resolution. The BSO played accordingly. This performance made a cogent case for the Rosamunde music to grace concert-stages more frequently. The selections varied from formal and stylized in a noble vein (Ballet Music I) to more earthly strains in Entr’acte III.

Following a stage reset, Zacharias returned and took the helm at the keyboard [tail facing upstage], his back to the audience, to lead the orchestra and solo in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17. This outpouring of classical ebullience was performed with refinement and élan. Zacharias played with subtlety and nuance, used a variety of touches at the keyboard, and a judicious use of dynamic levels including some divinely delicate piano passages. He conducted with ease, his gestures tracing the contours and the whole accomplished with the ease of a tightly choreographed dance. The Andante g minor theme was filled with a depth, a pathos, hat served as a delightful foil to the outer G Major sections of this movement and, more broadly, of the concerto. In character, the Allegretto was playful, almost improvisatory. On the whole, this was a truly cohesive reading with intense and excellent collaboration between Zacharias and orchestra.

Following intermission, Zacharias returned (only) to the podium to lead the orchestra in Schubert’s Entr’acte I from the Incidental Music to Rosamunde. Beginning with a declamatory opening, it began like an overture, and was an apt offering as the audience regrouped and returned. Here I heard more of the unbridled passion, the drama and the tragedy; at the same time the musicians coupled it with good classical restraint and control to produce some lovely pianissimo playing.

The program order seemed odd, starting the program with a portion of Rosamunde then returning after intermission to the first Entr’acte from same. The genius of this ordering became clear in performance, and it is not (only) because both this entr’acte and the symphony share the key signature of b minor. Zacharias suspended the play and the intention at the end of this first entr’acte from Rosamunde, foreclosing the possibility of any applause, and they embarked directly on a traversal of Schubert’s symphony. Working in tandem the pieces provided a lovely foil to one another and created a lovely bridge between the two compositions.

It can be difficult to muster enthusiasm for war horses. These canonical chestnuts can be served re-heated, re-hashed. It is all the sweeter then when the performance is anything but. Zacharias directed the BSO in a truly sublime interpretation which brought forth nuances rarely heard in this familiar set of notes. A slightly slower Andante let the music breathe, the notes expand and the melody soar in Symphony Hall. Kudos.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

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