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Music Review

At BSO, Prokofiev’s Fifth and Brahms at his most lyric

Vadim Gluzman performs Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Tugan Sokhiev.Hilary Scott

Some landscapes seem to possess their own intrinsic lyricism, or how else to explain the fact that Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, and Johannes Brahms each wrote some of their greatest works by the picturesque shores of the Wörthersee in the Carinthian Alps. Take a walk there, Brahms once observed, and you might just step on a melody.

Small wonder then that this is where Brahms wrote his beloved Violin Concerto, heard in Symphony Hall on Thursday night, and his Second Symphony, to be heard next week. Whatever else these two scores do or do not share, they have in common a certain sustaining, late-summer warmth and a fecundity of lyric inspiration that cannot be missed.


This week’s performances of the Brahms Concerto come courtesy of the Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, who is making his Boston Symphony Orchestra subscription debut under the baton of Russian conductor Tugan Sokhiev. Gluzman grew up in the former Soviet Union, and among his teachers was Zakhar Bron, who has supplied international concert stages with a steady stream of superb Russian violin virtuosos. On Thursday night, Gluzman’s account was firmly profiled, tonally generous if less coloristically distinctive, and interpretively right down the middle. It included a lithe traversal of the famous Joachim cadenza, though at times the passagework was so rapid that, at least from this listener’s seat, the details tended to blur. For an encore he chose the austerely beautiful Sarabande from Bach’s D-minor Partita. One appreciated the pivot from playing of extroverted brilliance toward a quieter exploration of Bach’s solitary sublime.

After intermission came Prokofiev’s galvanizing Fifth Symphony. Premiered in Moscow in January 1945, at a point when the tide of World War II had clearly turned in the Red Army’s favor, the music captures the anticipatory thrill of the Allied victory just around the corner. The piece also has rich links to the BSO through Serge Koussevitzky, who, according to biographer Moses Smith, had tried to offset the wartime scarcity of resources by sending packages of blank music paper from Boston to the Composers’ Union in Russia. When Koussevitzky received the score of the Fifth in the fall of 1945, prior to giving its American premiere with the BSO, he was delighted to see that Prokofiev had written the piece on manuscript paper from down the road.


For his part on Thursday night, Sokhiev demonstrated an easy moment-by-moment fluency with this juggernaut of a score, beginning with its massive first movement, here spacious and searching, and continuing into its caffeinated scherzo, in which BSO winds and brass played with gleam and point. The broader structural architecture of the final two movements was less vividly projected, but the atmosphere of almost raucous jubilation in the finale came through loud and clear.


At Symphony Hall, April 26 (repeats April 28)

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.