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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Concert Review: From Familiar Composers, Unfamiliar Sounds

Christian Zacharias conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra
by Paul J. Pelkonen
On Friday afternoon at Symphony Hall, Christian Zacharias conducted from the keyboard.
Photo by Stu Rosner © 2012 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In the modern classical music world, programming a weekend concert exclusively with the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven can lead to accusations of conservatism or (worse yet) pandering to the taste of an audience whose age has gone up even as their tolerance for "modern" music (anything written in the last 100 years) has gone down.

However, as Friday's afternoon concert at Symphony Hall proved, the choice to bring back German pianist-conductor Christian Zacharias proved a wise one. For this concert, Mr. Zacharias dug deeply into the vast catalogues of these three composers, crafting an appealing program from some of their least-performed compositions.

This was the BSO's first performances ever of Haydn's Symphony No. 76, a work that falls between his fertile Sturm und Drang period and the late compositions which thrilled audiences in Paris and London. This is Haydn at the height of his powers as a spinner of inventive, constantly changing melodies laced with ease and good humor. Mr. Zacharias led a crisp performance, with the Boston players sounding as if this was a symphony that was part of their regular repertory.

Mozart's B Concerto was also written in 1782, a time of great turmoil and change in the young composer's life. Having just scored a major operatic success with Idomeneo, Mozart was in the middle of moving from Salzburg to Vienna, ending his service to Hieronymus Colloredo, (the ruler and Archbishop of Salzburg) beginning work on Die Entführung aus dem Serail and courting Costanze Weber, the woman he eventually married.

Its highlight is a central slow movement with a somber, singing melody that is one of the saddest instrumental passages in the Mozart catalogue. Mr. Zacharias conducted the orchestra and played the solo part with the keys of his piano turned toward the audience. His eloquent singing tone and light touch made his cadenzas into poetic statements against the expert accompaniment of the tutti.

The second half of the concert featured another rarity--excerpts from Ludwig van Beethoven's ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus. In this first composition for the theater, Beethoven tried out some radically different textures to depict the classical storyline. But this score is essentially remembered for its final movement, a figured bass that developed into the last movement of the Eroica Symphony.

Mr. Zacharias proved to be an expert guide to this unfamiliar territory, maintaining narrative drive through the excerpts. He kept tempos brisk and business-like, drawing rich, warm performances in the movement that is essentially a short triple concerto for harp, flute and cello. The final movement, with its familiar descending "Eroica" theme, drew smiles of appreciation from the audience. They had heard something familiar at last.

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