Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons – Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll & Brahms 3 – Paul Lewis plays Mozart K503

Siegfried Idyll
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90

Paul Lewis (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 17 October, 2013
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Photograph: Marco BorggreveWith this concert Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s music director-designate, took to the Symphony Hall stage for the first time since his appointment was announced last spring. When Nelsons walked on, the packed audience – leadership-deprived since James Levine stepped-down in 2011 and clearly eager for the new man to succeed – leaped to its feet and cheered. Because of commitments elsewhere, Nelsons will not assume the post until the 2014-15 season and his appearances with the BSO this season are limited to the three-day run of this current program and a single concert performance of Salome next March. This evening, planned long before Nelsons’s appointment was confirmed, provided no daring programming, offering instead repertoire staples and a splendid soloist, and Nelsons jumped into it with visible fervor.

Opening proceedings was a heartfelt performance of Siegfried Idyll, Wagner’s sublime and tender birthday-gift composed for his second wife, Cosima. Nelsons took a relatively slow tempo, and the gentle pace served to reinforce the intimacy and amiability of the music, creating a mood of quiet serenity. The BSO strings and woodwinds produced an appealing glow, and the resonance of the hall reinforced the larger, more affective parts of the score. Elizabeth Rowe’s radiant flute-playing and James Sommerville’s superb account of the horn solo were stand-outs in the rich orchestral texture.

Andris Nelsons and Paul Lewis with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Photograph: Marco BorggreveFor the Mozart the soloist was Paul Lewis. This was his first appearance with the BSO in Symphony Hall (he previously played with it at Tanglewood in August 2012), and he made a most impressive debut with his subtle and supremely refined playing. The Allegro maestoso was taken briskly, and the Andante showed him at his most graceful and mysterious. Throughout the whole performance, Nelsons and the BSO were consistently at one with Lewis’s elegant, unaffected playing, providing wonderfully balanced accompaniment, the woodwinds and horns offering especially tantalizing interplay.

In a concert full of splendid music-making, the highlight was the Brahms. Nelsons directed a strikingly fresh and affectionate performance of the Third Symphony, drawing tremendously powerful and dramatic playing from the BSO musicians. Throughout one felt a potent connection between the players and the conductor, an intangible chemistry that brought out the best from everyone involved. Virtuosity was often on display but always accompanied by an underlying ardor and warmth.

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