Culminating his third year as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first-ever Artistic Partner – recently extended through the 2020-21 season – Thomas Adès delivered the world-premiere of his prickly and high-spirited Piano Concerto with Kirill Gerstein.
Whereas In Seven Days illustrates the Genesis creation narrative, this new piece contains no overt program. Retaining three-movement form, it displays elements of the traditional and the avant-garde, along with traces of stylistic mimicry. The highly engaging score combines fierce chromatic deviations, unresolved dissonances and rapidly fluctuating meters to reveal a colorful portrait.
The first movement Allegramente opens with an abrupt and startling statement by the piano and then in tutti, while the more expressive second theme offers some lovely cantabile. The second movement Andante gravemente begins with a chordal introduction from the winds, followed by a gorgeous sequence of rising and falling melodies. The final Allegro giojoso is replete with tumbling argument – loud blasts from the brass, discordant harmonies, plentiful and highly varied percussion, and some jazzy, ball-bouncing sequences on the piano.
The Concerto is enthralling in its surprising and frequently humorous blends of texture, tempo and melody. Gerstein delivered a masterful and grand account of the demanding writing, and the BSO responded with notable passion and precision.
The evening began with a swiftly-paced Mephisto Waltz, Liszt’s depiction of a scene from Nicolaus Lenau's 1836 poem Faust in which Mephistopheles delivers some wildly demonic fiddling at a village wedding celebration. Adès’s clean and energetic conducting spurred on the orchestra’s appropriately devilish dancing, while Elizabeth Ostling’s flute contrasted nicely with Blaise Dujardin’s gentle solos on cello.
Following intermission Tchaikovsky’s highly theatrical Fourth Symphony was dispatched in a vigorous, unflaggingly intense account. The brass and woodwinds compellingly called for attention in the opening Fate motif, and were even more stunning and dramatic in the Finale. The oboe theme at the beginning of the second-movement Andantino was notably expressive.