Gnann debuts and Pressler returns creating magic at the BSO

Gnann debuts and Pressler returns creating magic at the BSO

Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Moritz Gnann made his Symphony Hall debut during the three-day (Nov. 22, 25, 26) performance of Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Dvořák. It was a production for the ages, both for Gnann’s own showing and that of his piano soloist, Beaux Arts Trio founder Menahem Pressler.

Inspired by the composer’s 1829 visit to Fingal’s Cave on the Inner Hebrides isle of Staffa, the “Hebrides” overture evokes the ocean in all its forms. Under Gnann’s watchful baton, the tranquil seascape of cold and haunting melodies unfolded. As the piece built into an orchestral tempest, elemental outbursts echoed thunder and lightning. As the storm died out, the overture quietly ended, recalling the mystery and anticipation felt at the start.

The focal point of the concert’s first half was dedicated to Pressler’s rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27. Turning 93 in December, Pressler had to be helped to his seat; however, he played with the passion of a musician decades younger.

Finished just a few months before Mozart’s death, the concerto can be described as both a nostalgic look backward to classicism, and a testament to a composer on the verge of a new path, looking ahead towards romanticism. With no trumpets nor timpani, there is a much more intimate feeling, focusing on the relationship between the instruments as they speak back and forth. An element of fluidity is ever present.

Pressler’s execution was clear yet emotional, his dexterous fingers communicating all. Throughout the performance, Pressler kept an air of spontaneity about himself, as if wandering through the melodies and themes rather than reading straight from the score in front of him. All eyes were on him as he swayed to the music, coaxing every sentiment from his instrument.

At the end, the audience showered Pressler with cheers and applause before settling back down to hear an encore performance of Chopin’s posthumously published C-sharp-minor Nocturne. This was just as emotional and riveting as the Mozart.

Following intermission, Gnann, keeping the energy left over from Pressler’s performance alive, offered a distinct reading of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9.

Also known as the “New World” Symphony, it is a reflection of America influenced by musical ideas from various cultures, such as the pentatonic scale the composer thought he heard in Native American and African American music. Another source of inspiration came from Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” which Dvořák said inspired the two middle movements. However, all in all, Dvořák never truly leaves his homeland behind, with the American influence simply exoticism on top of the framework already characteristic of the Czech composer.

The first movement was expressive and full of contrast; its conclusion dynamic and aggressive. The Largo was dominated by the poignant English horn solo. The final two movements were rich in texture; the last building up the suspense until the explosive climax. Overall, Gnann led a reading that allowed the music to speak for itself. His fluid strokes and broad gestures for lyrical moments and occasional brisk motions for moments of intensity provided a refreshing change to Andris Nelsons almost manic movements onstage.

Header photo by Hillary Scott, courtesy of the BSO.

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