At Symphony Hall, music from an uncommon orchestra
In the decades since its composition, Aaron Copland’s shining “Fanfare for the Common Man” has been extensively sampled, ripped off, and parodied. John Williams had it in mind when he wrote the heroic theme for “Superman.” Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s take on the tune has been drafted into service as theme song for TV programs around the world. Its influence is audible in the soundtrack to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign ad. (The vast ideological gap between Reagan and Copland, a gay man who was investigated by the FBI for suspected communist sympathies, has been frequently pointed out.) But before all that, Copland drew on his own fanfare to create the finale of his Symphony No. 3, of which the Boston Symphony Orchestra turned out a soul-baring rendition Thursday evening at Symphony Hall.
With music director Andris Nelsons returned to the podium, where he’ll stay for the next few weeks, the orchestra fired on all cylinders. The performance had a few hiccups; a couple of large chords near the beginning slumped, and some stiffer sections of the second movement were simply more noticeable because of the whooping “Rodeo”-esque exuberance of the brass or heartiness of the strings elsewhere. The third movement had no such rough spots. The violins reached out with soft cloudlike gestures to lead a slow descent into the resolute core of the movement, which was no less solid for its textural sparsity. The “common man” theme ghosted through the score a few times, and when it at last appeared in full, it arose from the high winds and carried traces of a melancholic backward glance, before the brass blazed forth with the rising figure that kicked off the final movement’s blazing and complex orchestral fantasia on the fanfare.
The first half of the program treated the audience to 20th-century rarities. The first, Olly Wilson’s “Lumina,” came alive with searching urgency, coming forth in rushes of sound and sharp mallet attacks, then pulling back the speed to place Keisuke Wakao’s solo oboe in inquisitive dialogue with the strings. The effect was similar to gazing into a vast field of stars after months in the light-polluted city, being amazed all over again at the sheer depth of the sky.
Supposedly inspired by Tadeusz Micinski’s reeling poem “May Night,” Karol Szymanowski’s mercurial Violin Concerto dances on the dizzy edge between love for the carnal and divine. With Georgian-born German violinist Lisa Batiashvili glimmering at center stage, the BSO’s rosy rendering leaned into the divine and picturesque. Amid a whirl of twittering winds, Batiashvili’s violin made its entrance, sylphlike. Zooming through double stops and materializing distinct themes out of the freewheeling, atmospheric euphoria, her phrases were seamless without sentimentality. The timbres and attacks she lent to the cadenza were more pointed than in the rest of the piece; the line seemed to rail in desperation, as if grasping for a lost memory.
Surrounding her, the BSO deployed all the richly illuminating sonorities of the 20th-century large orchestra. The gentle interjections by harp, celesta, and piano were particularly exquisite. It felt less like a traditional concerto than a tone poem or tableau for orchestra and solo violin; perhaps accordingly, Batiashvili gave no encore, and let the unraveling of the final note be her last word.
BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
At Symphony Hall, Feb. 7. Repeats Feb. 9 and 12. 888-266-1200, www.bso.org