Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano — better known as his Triple Concerto — has never gotten much love, so it was good to see it on Boston Philharmonic Orchestra’s first program of 2017, with the Boston Trio as soloists. Courtly and gracious, it made a striking contrast to the second half of the bill, Bruckner’s unfinished Ninth Symphony, which, dedicated to God, plumbs the depths and storms the heavens.
There’s some question as to whether the Triple Concerto, from 1803-04, was written for Beethoven’s teenage Habsburg pupil Archduke Rudolph with a piano part tailored to Rudolph’s abilities. Regardless, the Allegro first movement is an easy, dignified conversation for gentlefolk out in a carriage perhaps, on a fine day; strenuous development of themes is eschewed in favor of casual exchanges. Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander built a noble orchestral backdrop with martial overtones in the timpani; cellist Jonah Ellsworth was warm and reassuring, violinist Irina Muresanu intense and searching, pianist Heng-Jin Park forthright and extroverted.
In the brief Largo second movement the cello broaches the topic of love, and here Ellsworth was Keatsian. The Largo leads directly into the Rondo alla polacca, a stately polonaise with, again, a martial flavor, as if our trio had arrived at a military ball. Everyone was in a playful mood for this finale, Muresanu most of all as she paused for a teasing moment before plunging into the 2/4 section near the end.
Bruckner’s Ninth, like Beethoven’s, begins with the composer’s trademark opening string tremolo, but soon three cataclysmic octave crashes into the abyss signal that this wrestling match with God is no-holds-barred. Zander provided shock but not awe; there could have been more paragraphing air around Bruckner’s thematic blocks, and at 23 minutes each, the first and third movements felt hemmed in.
This was still a very fine performance. The architecture was palpable and climaxes were grand. Zander conveyed the lulling tenderness of the first movement’s cradle-song second subject, the obsessive mystery of its ostinato-racked third theme, and the hysteria of Bruckner’s counting mania. The coda, where the rest of the orchestra drags down the trumpets like the devils who come for Faust, was powerful if not hair-raising. The jackhammer Scherzo was near perfect, ferocious but not congested; the slithering Trio was queasily seductive. And the Adagio, which feels like 40 days in the wilderness, reveled in its grinding dissonances and luminous oases. Bruckner did not live to complete the fourth movement of his Ninth, but there’s a valediction in the ascending figure that closes the Adagio. The brass have to hold the final chord for what seems forever; the BPO players floated it into eternity.
BOSTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
At Jordan Hall, SaturdayJeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.