Before Thursday evening’s program got underway, Managing Director Mark Volpe took a moment to reflect on the passing earlier in the day of Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “We have dedicated this concert to his memory. He was a great friend of the Boston Symphony Orchestra appearing often at Symphony Hall.” Many were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Mayor’s second inauguration was held in the hall where Menino, himself, conducted the Boston Pops.
Two of the most inviting concertos to have come out of the 20th century are Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto in G minor. Both have their own individual voices, both display their respective cultural roots, and both possess enormous charm.
Unfortunately, Frank Peter Zimmermann’s menacing tempos in the Sibelius Violin Concerto allowed for little detail much of the way, often leaving the orchestra wondering what to do.
Having gained world stature through his performances with major orchestras, Frank Peter Zimmermann impressed yet did not surprise in Thursday evening’s first of a three-concert run. That he would opt for breathlessness in his playing was no surprise. His so opting would ultimately level out the emotional playing field of Sibelius, and that was a surprise. There were only a few moments of emotion, of mood, of being able to fix upon the concerto’s inner life. Brief flares of rich sounding passion would come with the first movement’s signature theme. Then, in the opening of the third movement, a happy-go-lucky whistler sprang out of his Stradivarius of 1711 which once belonged to Fritz Kreisler.
Here and there passages with unwelcome intonation and over biting bow puzzled. But it was speed that won out and that further triggered a continuing mismatch with the orchestra. The relationship of soloist and orchestra was confounding, most noticeably so at climatic points with the violin steering right into head on collisions with the orchestra.
Zimmerman’s encore was Bach’s popular Prelude from Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major. Breakneck dazzle finally finished up with some slowing up and a cute ending.
Guest conductor Juanjo Mena, also caught under the spell of look how fast I can play, produced Schubert’s Symphony in C, “The Great” if not in record time, close to it. “The Great” took its first real breath with truly expressive freshness from John Ferrillo’s oboe. Moving along at a fairly good clip, the BSO and Mena, one of Spain’s most distinguished international conductors, would eventually find themselves coalescing mid-movement. From then on, Schubert’s embrace of youthful spontaneity, winning tonal contrasts, and joyous grandeur exploded with a fired up BSO.
The following Andante con moto was made crisp, eventually morphing into marching. Completely engaging crispiness and quickness of tempo would not hold up, though, for the remainder of another lengthy movement. Schubert’s melodic hook wanted for more coaxing to stay alive after its much iteration. Somewhat of the same effect came about in the ensuing Scherzo, relief from overdrive was nowhere in sight.
Thankfully, the concert wound up on a high. An entirely exhilarating allegro vivace lifted the concert into a different sphere. Here, high velocity became fully justifiable. Every move spun out by the genius Schubert led to yet another build, which took yet another detour all of which could be felt as well as admired. This was marvelous, polished symphonic musing from both Mena and orchestra.
A thrilling trio of trombones (Toby Oft, Stephen Lange, and James Markey) throughout the symphony and this thrilling close would easily make for a fitting celebration of Boston’s longest serving and most beloved Major Menino—who would have been smiling.
Lastly, I do want to mention Mark DeVoto’s fine work, Schubert’s Great C Major: Biography of a Symphony (Pendragon Press) to those readers in search of scoops and more.