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Casual Music From Zukerman and the BSO

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Jason Snider talks valves (Robert Torres photo)

One went to 18th-century concerts as much to enjoy society as to appreciate music, with talking between and during movements and spontaneous applause the norm. Therefore, Mozart and Haydn well-suited the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s “Casual Friday” series, where audiences can read interactive program notes on their cell phones during the performance and gather for a bar reception following the short and intermission-less show.

Perhaps counteracting the string-domination of the rest of the program, the evening started with Richard Strauss’s Serenade in E-flat Major for Thirteen Wind Instruments, Opus 7. Written when Strauss was 18, its sweet and delicate nature reflected influences from Mozart and Mendelssohn. The piece, in sonata form, and played as a single movement in Andante, opened with a lyrical theme expressed beautifully by John Ferrillo on oboe and answered by Elizabeth Rowe’s flute. The horns provided an elegant swell to the tune in the exposition and returned with a rich sound of the theme itself in the recapitulation. A delightful legato from the flute, with its exposed intonation delicately expressed, ended this serenade.

Pinchas Zukerman’s role as conductor-soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3 in G major K. 216 would have been a common sight when the work was first performed. The concerto, which  straddles the Baroque and Classical periods, opens with an unmistakable forte chord which Mozart placed in many of his compositions. The orchestra introduced the elegant grandeur of a Mozart theme, while 16th-note virtuosity from the solo violin decorated it. Zukerman’s strength in these passages came from his contrasts in articulation. Breaking out of the classical mold, the cadenza displayed romantic virtuosity, with double stops and ricochet bowing that reminded this author of Wieniawski and Sarasate show pieces.

The dreamy song of the adagio started with a D major arpeggio played first by muted upper strings. Zukerman’s solo entry provided a breath of anticipation at the top of the arpeggio before he began his decent down the scale. His shimmering vibrato contrasted well with the short rhymical triplets and pizzicato in the string accompaniment. The skipping dance had a leisurely tempo in the Rondeau. The unexpected G minor interlude showcased the soloist’s rich projection in the lower strings as a testament to his viola pedigree. Laughter, provided by the reaction to the understated finish, ended this piece.

Pinchas Zuckerman plays and leads (Robert Torres photo)

Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 in F Minor fully embraced the emotional outpourings of Strum und Drang. That character and the emotion was only vitiated by the scattering of applause between each movement. The dark expressive opening in an unconventional Adagio tempo for the first movement sets the tone for the rest of the symphony. Tension from several moments of silence punctuated its brooding.

The bouncing bows of viola and cello drove forward an agitated second movement, as Zukerman’s directed conducting attention towards these lower strings. Fierce contrasts between high and low notes brought further emotion to this Allegro. The minuet developed a ruminating character instead of its normal dance-like nature. The trio gave some relief to the sulking, especially from a hopeful call from the horns. The body movements of concertmaster Tamara Smirnova led the edgy passion of the finale. The dotted rhythms drove furioso to the close.

Ken Wu, an amateur pianist and violinist, is currently an editorial fellow at the New England Journal of Medicine and a pediatric resident training in London in the UK. He has been orchestra manager for the London Doctors’ Orchestra and Choir and currently plays violin in the Kendall Square Orchestra.   

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