CAMBRIDGE — It’s not every day you see a classical musician come on stage barefoot. But in her performance of Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Thursday evening at Sanders Theatre, Moldovan soloist Patricia Kopatchinskaja seemed to draw strength from the floor. Her unshod feet were, in any event, barely noticeable under her long red dress. Her playing was very noticeable, and very good.
Interpretations of the Bartók can range from gentle and lyrical to tough and implacable. Kopatchinskaja began with an intense statement of the first movement’s march-like verbunkos theme, but within moments her violin was whispering ethereally, and she tossed off the 12-tone “calmo” second theme as if it were a lullaby. Her tone can be raw and rustic; it can be serene and starlit. She was mystical in the cantilena section of the first movement where Bartók inverts the theme; then she transformed into a crazed fiddler and by the end was throwing out sardonic glissandos. In the fourth variation of the slow movement, her trills were barely audible hummingbirds’ wings; in the fifth, she turned her instrument into a drum. And she caught the moment where the finale becomes a dizzy waltz. Everything was clearly and imaginatively shaped.
The orchestra contributed a more full-bodied accompaniment than Kopatchinskaja received on her 2012 recording of the concerto with Péter Eötvös and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Occasionally it was too full-bodied, as during that cantilena, but Zander did usher in a magical hush just before the first-movement cadenza. Kopatchinskaja returned, in slipper-like shoes, for a pair of witty encores, Jorge Sánchez-Chiong’s 40-second “Crin,” with its slides and left-handed pizzicatos and vocalizations, and György Kurtág’s 20-second “Kafka Fragmente: Ruhelos,” for violin and soprano, in which she performed both parts.
The rest of the program was also gratifying, if not quite at the same level. The Overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz” is a kind of 10-minute opera in miniature, with the hunters depicted in the horns of the slow introduction and then the demonic fury of Black Huntsman Samiel breaking loose over the love theme of Max and Agathe. All this was palpable in Zander’s dramatic reading: the horns glowed, the cellos were lush, and when Agathe’s death — nicely signaled by the lower strings — proved only apparent, the love theme exploded into a joyful dance.
The concluding work, Brahms’s Second Symphony, received an exuberant, passionate reading that was occasionally congested. It tended to roll on, with little pause for reflection. But the Allegretto third movement was lilting and gracious, the strings exulted in the Largamente theme of the finale, and there were fluid solos from principal horn player Timothy Riley and principal flutist Kathleen Boyd. The closing pages, with their blazoned trumpets, had the jubilant feel of a Baroque overture.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.