The charismatic and accomplished young conductor Roderick Cox made an impressive BSO debut Thursday, Friday and Saturday in two much appreciated works: Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto featuring the section’s veteran principal William R. Hudgins, and Mendelssohn’s craggy and towering Scottish Symphony. With these performances, (I attended on Friday afternoon) Cox, the winner of the prestigious Solti award, has earned a first class return ticket.
Hudgins clearly delighted to be performing, entered with a big smile and relaxed air. Warming up during the tutti just before the solo clarinet entrance, his mellow yet clarion tone filled the hall throughout with a rendition reminding that Mozart’s gift imparts a bit of heaven. While there are no cadenzas in this very late work (K.622), the imaginative clarinet solos more than compensate. The initial canonic appearance of the clarinet pierced the air just where a second theme might have been, and Hudgins exploited the chance to display the breadth of what the clarinet can do—with its clarion high range, enveloping mid register and dusky lower range. The sweet and serene aria-like slow movement, with its deceptive simplicity, reminds of Mozart’s operas. Here Hudgins assumed the lead, with the orchestra then reflecting the initial lengthy melody. He more than competently crafted ornamentation in the middle section, and expansively sounded the reprise of the initial melody and coda. The final playful rondo suited Hudgins well, since his utter mastery of the clarinet facilitated without seeming brash. Once both orchestra and soloist introduced the main melody, a dulcet second theme unfolded, developed sonorously by Hudgins whose expressive development signaled appreciation. And the final return of earlier themes, the second melody before the first, resulted in an upbeat conclusion.
We re-experienced the novelty of the clarinet in Mozart’s day through Hudgins’s ebullient rendition. This glorious late work, inspired by the virtuoso Anton Stadler, has enchanted ever since. Hudgins performed the Mozart with the orchestra under Ozawa in 1995, and in 2011, with mellifluously then; now, with his veteran’s air he made something of a summa statement. The concerto’s 29 minutes go by very fast. Here, Cox led the appropriately chamber-sized orchestra sensitively, seemingly enjoying the concerto as much as the audience, whose approbation was clearly unanimous.
Many conductors have been drawn to Mendelssohn’s Symphony in A Minor, “The Scottish” for their debuts—and orchestras and audiences flock to it as well, given the composition’s evocative fully fleshed sense of the land, its history and its myths. Since its first BSO performance in 1883, it has been repeated many times since—no surprise, since so many conductors relish it. The four-movement work provides every orchestral section with exciting moments; with charisma and precision, Cox fully realized the possibilities. The Scottish evokes sounds, scenes, and history so vividly that it took Mendelssohn many years to complete it. He had first jotted down 16 bars when he visited Holyrood at age 20. The first movement, Introduction and Allegro agitato, has something for everyone. The hymn like opening, string focused, but with oboe sounding a bit like bagpipes, conjure the land in the andante early first movement, and then transitioning to the allegro, with its reflective brooding and storm-cloud painterly push. The audience seemed to relish the sprightly Scherzo assai vivace in F major marks the second movement, reminiscent of Scottish folk tunes (none actually verified) and characteristic “snap rhythm.” The elegiac Adagio cantabile third movement initiates with a mournful yet lyrical sense of regret, in a minor and moves to a funereal and majestic reference and storm clouds, with a bold range of dynamics, emphasized by Cox and the orchestra. The last movement– Allegro guerriero and Finale maestoso — first in A minor and then to A major both transported and enchanted. The audience signaled its enjoyment with foot stamping and a consensus standing ovation.
Cox’s first appearance this week, the result of the visa woes of the excellent conductor, Ton Koopman of the Netherlands, who had been scheduled to lead the orchestra, provided an impressive debut that should add breadth to the list of BSO regulars—we will surely see Cox again. This uplifting concert reminded that the BSO and Symphony Hall are treasures; just being there in person is a gift.