Divisions [Boston Symphony Orchestra co-commission: New York premiere]
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Lars Vogt (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Gail Wein
Reviewed: 20 October, 2015
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Andris Nelsons is a demonstrative conductor. That may sound redundant, but as he led the Boston Symphony Orchestra his routine fell along the spectrum between athlete and prima ballerina: he swayed from side to side, gestured in grand and subtle ways, bent back from the waist limbo-style, forward with his head, and swept his baton over the cellos as if it were supported by an invisible air stream. He was riveting to watch, and the BSO responded to his graceful and emphatic gestures with exceptional musicality. This is Nelsons’s second season as music director of the Boston Symphony, and already the mutual affection is clear: over the summer, his contract was extended through 2022.
Nelsons’s effective management was especially apparent in Brahms’s Second Symphony. It was a rare experience to hear an orchestra communicate emotions and ideas so clearly, as if telling a story. In the first movement, one of Brahms’s loveliest melodies wafted through Carnegie Hall, Nelsons finely sculpting phrases and the musicians paying keen attention to detail. Also effective was the oboe melody over pizzicato cellos in the third movement, and the joyful forte that burst out from the quiet opening of the Finale.
Lars Vogt, substituting for Paul Lewis, played Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. In his hands, rapid passages were clean and smooth, and lyrical sections rang clear and bell-like. Nelsons had the balance between piano and orchestra well in control, and Vogt paid careful attention to dynamics, executing some beautiful pianissimo passages. In the opening of the slow movement he created a solemn mood that was enhanced by the outstanding woodwind choir. That was contrasted by the rather bawdy opening of the Finale, which came across almost as a ragtime rhythm.
The concert opened with Sebastian Currier’s Divisions (2014). Among the commissioners is the National Orchestra of Belgium, to mark its commemoration of World War One. Currier has created a stirring study in contrasts: the languid melancholy of a trumpet versus sweet harp plucks; misterioso strings one moment, big brass chords the next; and rapidly shifting moods interspersed with silence, in homage to War’s casualties. Nelsons made the most of this winning work, weaving seemingly disparate parts into a cohesive, multi-layered narrative.