Mena, Rachlin, and BSO pitched a peculiarly bonded appointment with Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Janáček. The 43-year old Lithuanian-born Julian Rachlin, standing at 83rd among “The World’s Greatest Violinists,” should certainly rise in ranking after his appearance Thursday evening at Symphony Hall. Boston’s audience loved him. From Juanjo Mena on the podium stemmed an organic approach that would lead to sound-structure substance.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 44, his Trauersinfonie, or Mourning Symphony, became more or less a quest for the single statement under guest conductor Juanjo Mena. Haydn’s classical antecedent- consequent phrasing ascended from a simpler question and answer with Mena melding shorter phrases, the result being a large seamless outcome. Mena shaped a forceful four-note figure, a motto of sorts, in the first movement and played with dynamic contrasts. Yet Mena’s all-in-one Allegro con brio grounded Haydn’s nifty shifts. With Haydn come surprises. In this symphony, the usual third movement minuet came earlier. The trio could have been another surprise, but Mena played that down. Finely molded lines in strict canon took over. This was a very repetitious, near-boring iteration of the second movement.
In the Adagio, Mena often looked to the first violins, hands painting the melody that Haydn so adored. In the Finale: Presto, as with the rest of the symphony, the aesthetic of heightened emotionalism, or Sturm und Drang, gave way to more oneness.
Julian Rachlin hears in Mendelssohn a “charming person not an angry man” one full of inspiration, joy. Near the hand-held portion of the bow Rachlin would draw weightlessness opposite of the expected. Rather than exacting intonation, Rachlin would reach out for sunshine where shade often spreads. That is Rachlin’s melodic Mendelssohn the Boston audience heard throughout the Violin Concerto in E Minor. Remarkably, the Allegro Molto Appassionato, rapid passage work popped with certain exuberance under Rachlin’s deft fingers.
During moments of orchestral intervals, Rachlin reacted with a bit of body bobbing. These rare instances only heightened the benevolence pervading this Mendelssohn. And the cadenza, as with Rachlin’s entire concerto musing, lit up with virtuosic restraint, still more humanity pouring out of his violin.
High harmonics on the E string somehow astonishingly allied with the lowest notes on the G string. Still more, his is not a big sound.
Warmth abounded in the Andante. For the finale, first in minor then in major, Rachlin had to be thinking of a “celebration of joy,” his own words. Goodbye to brilliance and hello to feathery, whimsical, out-of-this world playing, ingenious in concept and execution.
Julian Rachlin steered Mena and the BSO clear of sentimentality to share higher aims. Embracing optimism and assurance clearly separates this violinist from today’s crowded field of artists swept up with I can play it faster. Rachlin truly is filling a vacuum. He had Boston’s audience standing and cheering. On a night where a polar vortex kept some from attending, those who were at Symphony Hall would, no surprise, would vote—with their cheers and shouts— this magnificent artist way up in the polling charts of all-time great violinists.
The BSO, too, touched deeply. An ultimate fineness, an extraordinary transparency akin to chamber playing wondrously complemented Rachlin.
Janáček’s Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen turns one of his operas into orchestral storytelling without the picturebook qualities of the original. Why not follow BSO’s presentation of Firebird Suite of Stravinsky with titles shown on the overhead screen? The voluptuous, the haunting, the memorable English Horn of Robert Sheena here and later in the following Janáček is a must-count among the best BSO moments
Next, awakened brass with tympani stirred up the opening fanfare of Janáček’s Sinofonietta to spine-tingling effect. In “The Castle, Brno,” the BSO threw a sudden royal low-roar scare, startlingly shifted to fearsome festivity, morphed to the pastoral, and warmed to the romantic. Later, BSO delivered waves of strings, brass fanfares and rocketing woodwinds. “Town Hall”—where Hitchcock thrillers perhaps got mileage out the composer’s 1926 work —missed such suspense.
The audience applauded enthusiastically it appeared more for the impeccable and refined BSO than, perhaps, for Janáček’s travelogue of the militaristic and festive.