Eclectic is the word for the Boston Symphony Orchestra program led by guest conductor Charles Dutoit Thursday night at Symphony Hall. But while the three pieces — Paul Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber,” Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and a suite from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet — might span hemispheres and centuries, they’re linked by their composers’ affinity for dramatic gestures and bold colors.
“Symphonic Metamorphoses,” which Hindemith wrote in 1943 while teaching at Yale (his own English title was “Symphonic Metamorphosis”), was meant to be a ballet for Léonide Massine, but it wound up as a four-movement mini-symphony. The motoric second movement, called “Turandot: Scherzo,” draws on incidental music Weber composed for Friedrich Schiller’s adaptation of the Carlo Gozzi play. You can, however, hear the entire piece as a kind of “Turandot” ballet: the opening Allegro is an ironic, syncopated march in the vein of Prokofiev or Shostakovich, the Andantino is a moody siciliana with flute mutterings, and the closing March turns into a tarantella. Dutoit’s performance was high-octane and extroverted to a fault, with some congestion in the Scherzo and not enough room for Elizabeth Rowe’s flute solo in the Andantino. He did bring out the Oriental-marketplace flavor of the Allegro, and the entire piece’s bustling energy.
The soloist for the Liszt was Stephen Hough, a British pianist who has a reputation for clearing out the cobwebs of tradition. The E-flat Concerto is also cast in four symphonic movements, but they run together, and the themes run in and out, and to hold it together you need a keen musical intelligence as well as fabulous technique. Hough seemed to have overthought it, particularly in the first movement, where he sounded self-conscious and disconnected. The dreamy second-movement theme was completely deadpan, though he did build it to an impressive climax. Dutoit in his accompaniment tried to suggest to his soloist a more nuanced approach, though without much success. Hough’s technique, at least, was flawless.
Prokofiev himself created three suites of orchestral music from his “Romeo and Juliet.” Dutoit drew on the first two to create an eight-movement suite that did a fair job of telling the story in 40 minutes, from the bump-and-grind of “Montagues and Capulets” to the tender romance of “Juliet the Young Girl” and “Madrigal,” the patriarchal tread of “Minuet,” the antic fleering of “Masks,” the winged rapture of the balcony scene, and the stark, 15-chord horror of “The Death of Tybalt.” A good performance of this music conjures moving bodies. Dutoit’s was static and overbright. It had passion and power, especially in its vivid, merciless “Death of Tybalt,” and silvery trumpet playing from Thomas Rolfs in “Minuet” and “Masks.” But it didn’t dance.