Celebrity Series of Boston collaborated extraordinarily with the BSO management this stormy Sunday at the Symphony Hall, as the 3rd year of a five-year multidimensional collaboration between Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the BSO found Andris Nelsons leading the GHO in a pairing of Schubert’s “Great” C Major Symphony with Brahms’s Double Concerto in A Minor for violin, cello and orchestra, Op.102; violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Gautier Capuçon took the solo parts.
For some reason a long silence ensued before the soloists’ entrance onto the podium, but the rewards came rivetingly and energetically in Brahms’s dense, 18-minute Allegro movement. After a pealing orchestral motto on what became the first theme proper, both soloists presented cadenza-like passages with gusto. Gautier’s passionately romantic tone immediately grasped our attention while echoing the opening theme. After virile arpeggios it was time for Leonidas’ answering passage, which was more flowing and lyrical, foreshadowing the “Viotti” second theme. The interplay necessary for this piece displayed itself during their first unison phrase, which eventually turned into to a dance-like exchange: sometimes complementary, sometimes individual in their utterances. Thus creating a dynamic duo transformation. After the introduction of both soloists, Brahms lays out the first movement close to traditional concerto form: an orchestral exposition of the bold and the lyrical themes. The expectant return of the soloists elaborated on both the lyricism and boldness of the piece, while adding extended ‘display’ sections of virtuosity. A unifying feature of the material from the first bars to the end of the concerto is a steady juxtaposition of duple figures and triplets, sometimes in successions, sometimes paired in polyrhythms.
Furthermore, Nelsons’s spectacular bond with the GHO musicians allowed the combined orchestra to achieve overall unity of sound and movement, as if acting as a flurry of birds in sync while preparing to travel to a warmer climate. Nelsons’s precise control over the whole piece exhibited a sophisticated, yet youthful interpretation of Brahms that was unparalleled in my experience. Comparisons aside, I’d urge you to see the joint BSO/GHO configuration concerts during the “Leipzig Week in Boston” and experience the difference!
The warm and songful pentatonic Andante opened like an exalted folk song. Both soloists demonstrated rigorous control and virtuosity. The whole movement had a certain metric elusiveness: we can’t easily tell where the downbeat is, which creates a dreamy haze in which musical lines wander. Simple ABA format emitted a flowing, chorale-like atmosphere, which allowed soloists to embellish. Gautier’s intense tone and eye contact with both Andris and Leonidas helped lead the piece. Occasionally sharing eye contact while projecting his shapely phrases, Kavakos moved swiftly along, completely in sync with Gautier and Nelsons as with the acting concertmaster Frank-Michael Erben.
Finale, Vivace non troppo, seemed possessed of a gypsy flavor as it introduced a lot of rich double- and triple-stop effects; these blossomed vigorously through the solo instruments. A short 3-minute movement and a good-humored coda ends this, the last and the lightest-spirited of Brahms’s mature orchestral works. The completely riveted audience immediately stood up and demanded an encore. Kavakos and Capuçon complied with the 2nd movement Tres vif from Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello, completely comfortable with the piece’s numerous mood swings and humor.
The concert closed with Schubert’s 55-minute Symphony in C. The GHO is proud to recall how Felix Mendelssohn led the debut of Schubert’s Great at the earlier Gewandhaus in March 1839. It called for two of each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings. The first sign of the symphony’s departure from tradition is the gigantic Andante introduction. It forms almost a little sonata form in itself: a multi-part and multi-key expanse gravitating around the “horn-call”, a bit of development, then a return. The orchestral balance throughout was exemplary and just when we settled into lyricism and occasional orchestral outbursts, an Allegro non troppo erupted with a furious burst of energy that never flagged through the course of a huge movement. Tonality changes appear often, jumping up and down in thirds from C major: E minor and major, later we received to E-flat major, A-flat major, also A minor and major. Nelsons’s precisely supported Schubert’s genius of melody and modulation, effortlessly jumping from one key to another.
In the lyrical second movement GHO shows off its melodic, mournful side (think Beethoven’s Seventh). The mood is not entirely tragic, more a kind of uplifting novelty. The giant ending movement marked Allegro Vivace calls for hilarity punctuated by brass fanfares. Both lyrical and rhythmical ideas alternate in quick succession, but the rhythmic flair doesn’t taper off. Our ears recall a familiar sound: it is a phrase from the famous tune of the Beethoven Ninth finale. The joyous, multi-part coda ends with some six pages of pure C major. What an extravagant harmonic excursion that reached its apex sending us into the windy and rainy Boston evening.