Briefly considered: Boston Symphony Orchestra premieres Julian Anderson's "Incantesimi."
Big ideas in a small container: best way to describe Julian Anderson’s “Incantesimi,” which the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered Thursday evening at Symphony Hall.
The BSO co-commissioned the work, with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic of London. Those ensembles have already performed “Incantesimi,” and so this was its American debut.
The work gives special prominence to the English horn, played here as usual with style by Robert Sheena. And not just a lovely phrase or two: the English horn opens the work, weaves its melodies throughout, and caps it off alone, with an impossibly long sustained note.
“Incantesimi” sits low in the sound-scape: Heavy on the percussion, including persistent writing for large bass drum, bass and contrabass tom-tom. Anderson also makes use of contrabassoon and bass clarinet, further deepening the textures.
Bells figure prominently as well, and much brass, playing frequent fanfares—some from offstage.
The program notes detailed Anderson’s multiple influences, but of particular note are his studies with Tristan Murail, who ideas of the spectrale obviously influenced everything. “Incantesimi” invoked a kind of modernizing of Debussy’s wash of sound, with special accents from percussion—high and low—providing a backdrop. It made an effective, accessible concert overture, quickly establishing its identity and fulfilling those expectations.
The French composer and pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger took the stage for Schumann’s A minor concerto: precise, restrained (until the final movement), too clinical for this taste. An encore—a movement from Bach’s “Italian Concerto”—emphasized the point: both the Romantic and the Baroque sounded like Neuberger.
The program also included a rousingly played Schubert symphony—“The Great,” the second C major. Every measure seemed engagingly played by every section. Juanjo Mena, filling in for Christoph von Dohnányi, conducted with terrific energy.
This program repeats this afternoon and Saturday evening. bso.org; 866-266-1200.
CADENCES: Both Schumann’s piano concerto and Schubert’s Symphony in C were performed during the BSO’s first season, 1882, with Georg Henschel conducting. This thanks to the BSO’s excellent tradition of reprinting program pages from the original concerts. The premiere of Schubert’s “The Great” was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn, at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, in March 1839.
This is Neuburger’s first appearance as a performer with BSO; his “Aube,” a BSO commission, was premiered here in 2015, with von Dohnányi conducting. Dohnányi was supposed to lead this concert; due to illness he was unable to travel. Mena substituted here; his work with the orchestra in the past two weeks has been remarkable. He seemed personally moved by the playing Thursday evening.