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BSO refreshing and exhilarating

The Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa, Anne-Sophie Mutter, soloist, Thursday at Symphony Hall; repeated Friday at 2, Saturday and Tuesday at 8.

Anne-Sophie Mutter gave a brilliant performance of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole in her Thursday night performance with the BSO. The BSO handled itself quite competently as well. Actually, more than quite competently.

The first piece on the program, Mendelssohn's Symphony #5, Reformation, was indicative of the level of performance enjoyed for the rest of the evening. The Reformation symphony was written to celebrate the tricentennial of the Diet of Worms, the congress at which protestantism emerged as a unified movement in Germany. As such an occasion would demand, the piece was without colorful melody, but rather was solemn and majestic.

Although the orchestra started off a bit slowly, it did not take long for Ozawa to bring his shop under control. The first movement was somber and powerful, though somewhat dissonant. Melody is not really important here: what is important is that the mood be set for the hymn "A mighty fortress is our God," that constitutes the fourth movement.

The second movement was a repetition of a quite simple theme. It had its moments of beauty, but it was nothing mind-boggling. The highlight of the third movement was the flute solo leading up to the Chorale. And what a Chorale! Ozawa brought the power and unity of the orchestra to bear on it. An impressive show.

The second half of the concert was characterized by more colorful fare. Lalo's melodic and sensuous Symphonie Espagnole became Anne-Sophie Mutter's playground, as she romped through Lalo's Spanish melodies with grace and control, yet without losing the lightheartedness, which is the life of the piece.

To set matters straight, The Symphonie Espangnole is not a symphony as such. Rather, it is a five movement violin concerto misnamed. In each of the five movements, the Orchestra provides the theme at the onset, and the soloist elaborates it. The Orchestra merely follows along, suggesting new material for the soloist to exploit.

Mutter gave the fast sections a brisk and clear delivery, yet was able to be delicate and sincere during the few slow portions in the fourth movement. But contrary to the Mendelssohn, this was a fun, not a profound piece, and I would rather have heard something more taxing.

Though the Symphonie Espagnole was the highlight of the evening, the final piece, Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso, was hardly anticlimactic. Like Lalo's piece, the Alborada is the work of a Frenchman evoking images of Spain. The French were particularly adept at this; witness Bizet's Carmen, written at the same time as the Symphonie Espagnole.

The Alborada del Gracioso is an ebullient piece, constantly changing mood and rhythm. At times, two of the themes are played by different instruments at the same time. Although the effect is somewhat dissonant, it is not at all disagreeable for a comic piece. Fun is contagious, and the orchestra certainly spread it.

The BSO was able to exult in this wonderful noise without making the dissonance grating on the nerves. Quite the contrary: the experience was somewhat akin to splashing paint about on a canvas. Although the result is no Michelangelo, the experience is refreshing and exhilarating.

Michael Tuchman->