During the ongoing interregnum period in Symphony Hall, the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra have come to seem increasingly at ease stepping forward on their own in the self-directed programs that have been sprinkled throughout the seasons. The most recent took place on Tuesday night and was billed as an evening of Mozart chamber music, though the balance was tipped toward larger-scale serenades: for the strings the “Serenata Notturna,” and for the woodwinds the remarkable Serenade No. 10 in B-flat, known as the “Gran Partita,” a work that is veritably symphonic in length and in its range of expressive possibilities.
Between these two larger works came the more intimately scaled Piano Quartet in E-flat (K. 493), with the distinguished pianist Richard Goode joining a BSO ensemble made up of concertmaster Malcom Lowe, principal violist Steven Ansell, and cellist Sato Knudsen (who was filling in for Jules Eskin, out for medical reasons).
It was somewhat curious that a veteran Mozartean of Goode’s stature was here only tapped for a single chamber work, as he might have easily been showcased in a piano concerto as well, but the piano quartet brought rewards of its own. Goode’s mastery of Mozart’s language was evident in the contours and curvature he brought to phrasing, especially in the harmonically exploratory slow movement. In Goode’s hands the final high-spirited Allegretto also left the starting gate at a precise calibrated canter that deftly set the pace for the remainder of the movement.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Even so, music of this scale can easily seem dwarfed by the dimensions of Symphony Hall. That was less of a concern in the “Serenata Notturna,” in which four soloists are played off against a larger ensemble. Here Lowe, Ansell, Edwin Barker, and Haldan Martinson formed the solo quartet, providing a tight and energetic core around which the rest of the piece vigorously spun. It was also good to see associate concertmaster Tamara Smirnova at the front of the first violin section, returning to duty after an extended medical leave.
The real highlight of Tuesday’s program however was the celebrated “Gran Partita,” a pinnacle of this literature, for 12 winds (including two basset horns) and double bass. The reading was one of surpassing elegance and clarity, highlighting the ensemble feats of which these players are capable with nary a conductor in sight. The sound had weight and fullness but also a transparency of detail when called for, as in the lovely lilting Adagio movement, where a stately lyricism is tinged with a certain wistful yet wise sense of melancholy — an emotional register as proprietary, as uniquely Mozart’s, as any combination of notes could ever be. Principal oboist John Ferrillo and principal clarinetist William R. Hudgins took on leadership responsibilities by virtue of the prominence of their parts, but this was an impressively collaborative effort, from first note to last.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.