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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Moritz Gnann conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra with Menahem Pressler

Moritz Gnann conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra with Menahem Pressler

 Moritz Gnann conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with soloist Menahem Pressler, Nov. 22, 2016. Hilary Scott photograph.

Moritz Gnann conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with soloist Menahem Pressler, Nov. 22, 2016. Hilary Scott photograph.

 

Soloists are chosen for many reasons. Competition winners, hometown favorites, conductor protégés. Legacy must be accounted for. In the end, at the conclusion of a season, hopefully a measure of balance gets achieved, and audiences hear new ideas, older explorations, and standard investigations in proportionate measure.

Audiences appreciate (or don’t) performances for many of the same reasons: familiarity, strangeness, back-story, enthusiasm, nostalgia. All have merit.

Menahem Pressler joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra Friday afternoon for many of these reasons. BSO assistant conductor Moritz Gnann made his Symphony Hall debut. Audiences were delighted, for many of their own reasons as well. 

Pressler played Mozart’s last concerto, the famed, engaging B-flat, No. 27, K.595. 

Among the positives: the cadenzas were smartly done, if not flashing or brisk (Pressler played Mozart’s cadenzas in the first and last movements); the pianist collaborated with great respect, in large part, with the orchestra and the conductor; and the phrasing, in the sense of ideas the soloist presented as inherent in the music, was unimpeachable. 

On the other hand: dynamics from the piano were limited to piano and mezzo forte. No thunder in this performance. The left-hand too frequently just disappeared. Many of the passages sounded like they were being read through.

And when Pressler controlled the tempo, things screeched to a halt. At the opening of the Larghetto, his introspective solo opening ventured a kind of insight. But it was terribly slow, and when Gnann reestablished a more consistent idea at the orchestra’s entrance, the movement seemed back on track. 

But at the repeat, Pressler downshifted again. What was first deeply considered, became deeply troubling. It was a kind of war of wills, and Mozart was the loser. 

This performance would never pass a blind audition, at this level. Still, let’s avoid truisms. Older players do not necessarily play with greater depth, or greater musicality. These are mountains to climb, this repertory: the young scale them thrillingly; other players find more clever approaches, subtly distinguished; some players stand and admire the beauty, describing it exuberantly but refusing to climb.

Pressler has made music for my entire lifetime, and I am not young. It was a pleasure to be in the room with him, and with Mozart. The audience found many reasons, some likely not enumerated above, to enjoy everything, including the Chopin Mazurka he played as an encore. That’s the only conclusion to be offered.

The BSO’s position of associate conductor must be its own reward: participants rarely take the stage (once at Tanglewood, once at Symphony Hall), unless there is a cancellation. But just in recent years alone many associates have show profound skill, and gone on to more substantial appointments. In the last decade Ludovic Morlot, Marcelo Lehninger and Gnann’s current fellow Ken-David Masur have conducted brilliantly.

Gnann joins them. He is hardly a newcomer—a longtime apprenticeship with Andris Nelsons at Bayreuth is just one of the lines on his CV. His leadership for Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture, and for Dvorak’s New World symphony, were intelligent, measured, engaged. We will probably have to travel the next time we want to see him work.

 

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has completed its fall season. The Boston Pops opens its Holiday Pops performances Nov. 30. The next BSO performance will be Jan. 5-7 with Ken-David Masur conducting members of the BSO in music of Vivaldi, Rota, Schumann, Jolivet and Krommer. 888-266-1200; bso.org

Challenges: The Dover Quartet, in Rockport, Dec. 9, 2016

Challenges: The Dover Quartet, in Rockport, Dec. 9, 2016

Brahms: Andres, Nathan, Nelsons, Grimaud. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Nov. 8 through 19

Brahms: Andres, Nathan, Nelsons, Grimaud. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Nov. 8 through 19