Lars Vogt offered his own cadenzas, angles and experiences in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor. Preceding Bruckner’s Symphony No.7, Andris Nelsons’ spontaneous remarks about clock watching in the hour-long plus work drew pleased response from a nearly filled Symphony Hall. Overall, Thursday evening’s concert was a must-hear, yet not everything cracked musical sound barriers.
With the oft-played Mozart, expectations can run high. Will we be taken into the composer’s stratosphere, the performer’s imagination, or elsewhere? Having made his BSO debut in 2004 at Tanglewood, German-born Lars Vogt has performed there since and has made two previous appearances on the Symphony Hall stage. The 45-year-old pianist, conductor and teacher may have found answers to recreating Mozart’s 24th through such a multifaceted involvement.
Perhaps to no surprise, then, his Mozart showed eclecticism. Midway through the first movement, Vogt raised hairs by producing a very gnarly cadence, the pianist, himself, looking as though lightning had struck in the stormy music. His light-fingered playing in the Largo had breathing on hold.
Adding to the continually growing list of cadenzas for the outer movements, Vogt smartly referenced Mozart as he alternately parted ways. Placing the lyrical second theme in the midst of fire, as he did, made magic. So did his placing the trill that signals the end of the cadenza in the left hand leaving the right hand to suggest, ghostlike, the main orchestral theme.
The Largo was the outstanding movement, utterly endearing. The ways of Mozart, Vogt, Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra would unify in a collaborative effort openly rich with personalities. Eschewing the baton, Nelsons’ hands maneuvered winds into utterly adoring playfulness. Leaning toward the orchestra seemingly as a fellow listener, Vogt would again and again reverse his role in Mozart’s calls and answers, each time delicately shifting emphases in the recurring dialogues.
Hearing the horn prominently displayed in the forte restatement of the symphony’s opening theme was yet another moment in a performance marked with many such that alternated with the more usual and more expected. Interestingly, there was no encore.
Nelsons improvised an introduction to Anton Bruckner Symphony No. 7 in E Major, which began by pointing to his wristwatch. Given the length of the symphony, would we be checking the time? When he was five years old, he told us, he discovered Wagner in a life-changing experience. It was not surprising, then, that Nelsons’ very first encounter with Bruckner’s music would lead to an ever-deepening admiration and love for the late Romantic German, devout Catholic, and great symphonist.
His music is “medicine for my soul…for peace…for getting closer to God.” Turning to face the players, he went on to say that the orchestra was “infected” with this music and that hopefully we, too, would be infected.
The Nelsons-BSO 71-minute performance approximated those timings of most other major symphony orchestras. The way he remained statuesque with outstretched arms pointing upward for moments on end told much of the story of the humongous symphony’s opening. Coming out of nowhere, the first and last climax exalted the barely audible tremolos of the opening; the ensuing hopeful sweeps invoked the grandest human emotions.
In the half-hour Adagio (Very solemn and very slow), the BSO strings’ gut-wrenching places would be offset by the winds’ capriciousness, even whirlwind dizzying phrases. Light, tender Mahler-like “waltzing” summoned by the orchestra would be countered by the solemn brass that reached breathtaking depths. All this culminated in a feeling of just barely able to comprehend life’s different forces.
Best known, the unforgettable Scherzo with its trumpet call and surge-upon-surge layout was less than thrilling. One of a number of signatures of the symphony, the trumpet call, became distracting on account of the unevenness in the delivery, particularly of the two repeated notes, which were not clean, pure tones as the first and most of the remaining.
After the ruminations of the Adagio, Bruckner’s Scherzo argues for awakenings as opposed to affirmations, which is where Nelsons led the orchestra. The surging score was not realized because of its in-the-moment, over-powering interpretation.
When the winds first burbled away at the rollicking figure that would eventually spin the final movement into a monolithic close, there was no looking back. The BSO, at once surging and building, gloriously proclaimed Bruckner’s final word on faith and life on earth.
A five-minute ovation continued as Maestro Nelsons, in no hurry, waved soloists one by one and then entire sections to stand.