With conductor Andrew Davis, the BSO considers the big picture

01.11.19
Sir Andrew Davis
The Boston Globe

Symphonies and concertos can often be charted in waves. Either the piece begins with a bang (hello, Beethoven’s 5th!) or an emotional peak arrives early on. It pulls back, then it builds again, reaching toward the next climactic moment. Rinse and repeat. Thursday night at Symphony Hall, it seemed British conductor Andrew Davis and Italian pianist Alessio Bax had politely asked that paradigm to take the weekend off. On a program of John Harbison’s Symphony No. 2 and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 5, plus Mozart’s well-loved Piano Concerto No. 24, maximum attention was given to the big picture.
Harbison’s Symphony No. 2, performed in honor of the composer’s recent 80th birthday, plays out in four movements, depicting dawn, daylight, dusk, and darkness. The piece doesn’t follow a narrative through those times of day, or represent specific things associated with them; instead, it treats each movement as a four-dimensional snapshot that captures the ineffable essence of its concept. The orchestra created a spacious sound, of which the edges could not be perceived. It would be easy for such a piece to feel scattered, but Davis maintained a clear and unhurried sense of direction. In the final and longest movement, the violins navigated a probing high passage with almost otherworldly concord.
Making his BSO debut, Bax gave the Mozart concerto a brisk, even-keeled treatment, and orchestra matched soloist in character. At first, the ensemble sounded a shade washed out, but after the piano entered, it was as if Bax had added color. The composer’s sole piano concerto to begin and end in a minor key can be a sparky Classical showpiece, but Bax’s performance was built on a foundation of understated grace, moderate dynamic shifts, and easy flow between statements. Many called for an encore, but the pianist gave none. Read the full review here