Friday night’s BSO program, curated and conducted by the British composer Oliver Knussen, had the exploratory energy and distilled interest of roughly a full month of typical subscription concerts, all packed into a two-hour stretch. Of the four works presented, two were by Knussen himself, and none of them had been previously performed by the BSO.
For Knussen’s “Whitman Settings,” scored for soprano and orchestra and written in the early 1990s, the composer chose four brief poems varyingly ethereal in subject matter, and fashioned for them concise yet beautifully evocative musical worlds. On Friday the accumulation of glittering orchestral details at times rendered Claire Booth’s elegant soprano as just one instrument within the mix, but what a mix it was. It’s tempting to extend the imagery of the cycle’s first poem — “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer” — whose narrator abandons a science lecture to gaze in silence at the night sky. Knussen’s music seems to cast him as both learned astronomer and instinctive stargazer, alert to the complexities of craft and to the simplicities of found beauty.