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Bartók, Martinů and Dvořák: Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi (guest conductor), Symphony Hall, Boston, 5.12.2009 (KH)

Bartók: Divertimento for string orchestra, Sz 113
Martinů: Violin Concerto № 2
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G, Opus 88

You know it’s going to be an exciting program, which opens with a piece as energetic and engaging as Bartók’s Divertimento. Paul Sacher commissioned the piece for his Basel ensemble in the immediate wake of the highly successful Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta, but (apparently) with the proviso that it be somewhat less of a challenge. Concerns over the gradual worsening international scene in 1938-1939 (and his mother’s failing health) were a distraction from setting to work on the new commission; but once it was possible to start work, Bartók completed the task in a scant 15 days. The result is equal parts charming and invigorating. In a manner distantly suggestive of the Baroque concerto grosso, soloists emerge from time to time out of the tutti; and in these passages, concertmaster Malcom Lowe and principal bassist Edwin Barker particularly shone.

Martinů’s orchestral textures are always magical, and frequently breathtaking. The concerto on these concerts, and the Frescoes of Piero della Francesca in October, are in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death; but the music is so expert and so compelling as to earn its place in the BSO’s programming on a more regular basis. Mr Zimmermann played magnificently, and his rapport with the orchestra as accompanist gave all the appearance of their having played together for years. The applause brought him back out on stage repeatedly, and at the last he played the Andante from the Bach A Minor solo sonata as an encore.

While the entire evening was a triumph under his command, Maestro von Dohnányi led the orchestra in a thoroughly ravishing account of the Dvořák Eighth Symphony. The BSO has given exciting performances of many musical works this fall, but this concert with von Dohnányi stands out for its superb excellence in toto, from first note to last, the sort of concert which has you floating on air for 48 hours after.

Karl Henning

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