Boston Symphony and Ozawa are nearly flawless

October 24, 1994|By David Donovan | David Donovan,Special to The Sun

The Boston Symphony Orchestra concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Saturday night was the kind of great music-making one associates with the big five American orchestras. The ensemble is almost always flawless and the inner phrases always seem to be rehearsed and at the same time spontaneously executed.

The orchestra perfectly adapted to music from three eras (contemporary, classical and romantic) with the kind of flexibility that all the great orchestras show when they have their music director on the podium.

Seiji Ozawa is entering his 22nd seasons as the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He is the current dean of longevity of American orchestra directors. To this listener, Ozawa has the perfect podium manner. His beat is clear, his gestures are economical and he appears to let the orchestra and music speak for itself rather than impose a willful or idiosyncratic interpretation on the players.

The program opened with an 11-minute elegiac work for chamber orchestra by Toru Takemitsu, titled "Tree Line." The string section was reduced to 20 players, and nine winds, one harp and four percussionists completed the scoring. The music, blending natural sounds with abstract materials gave a Zen-like serenity to the work. The bird-like flute solos kept reminding one Debussy.

The work is quasi-programmatic since Takemitsu is musically portraying a line of acacia trees that are near the composer's mountain villa. The work concludes with a haunting off-stage oboe solo that fades into poignant silence.

Many people have heard Takemitsu without realizing it if they have seen Akira Kurosawa's film, "Ran." That score shares many of the feelings of this wonderful minimalist tone poem.

Ursula Oppens joined Ozawa and a somewhat larger contingent to conclude the first half of the program with the Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat by Mozart. Oppens is a fierce champion of new music, and this work almost seemed too easy for her. There is absolutely no question of her complete command of the keyboard as she crouches like Glenn Gould over the piano. One could have had a little more charm and less accuracy for its own sake.

The orchestral support was first-rate, and Ozawa and his orchestra showed the kind of Mozart that was not only compositionally sophisticated but playful and joyous. The sonata-rondo finale did live up to its opera buffa reputation, and Oppens made the most of Mozart's wide variety of thematic presentations. The recital at Shriver Hall on Nov. 19 will surely showcase Ms. Oppens' talent more than this performance.

The evening ended with a brilliant performance of the Brahms Symphony No. 4. Ozawa gave a straight-ahead, no-nonsense realization of the great E-minor symphony. This was a dark German performance with the less strident rotary-valved trumpets melding into the orchestral textures rather than more brilliant piston-valved trumpets used by most orchestras.

The real treat for this listener was hearing the fantastic timpani playing of the Boston Symphony's great Everett Firth. Firth plays the inner rhythms so masterfully and the nuance and color he achieves made a great Brahms even more impressive. Each of the four movements was perfectly calculated and organic. The finale had a sense of relentless growth from the opening brass chords to the passionate concluding bars.

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