In the heavenly slow movement of Number 4, marked Andante cantabile (slow and singing), the main theme begins with a note that triggers one of Mozart's most exquisite and irresistibly melodic phrases. It's the second note that begins the actual melody, not the "trigger" note, like the way "ka-POW" is accented on the second syllable. But Mutter ignored this rhythmic accent, and so the entire melody was deprived of its melodic shape and energy. The movement was bland and blank. Everything seemed rushed. Nothing smiled. Nothing sang!
The small orchestra played tag with Mutter, and she turned around every few minutes to provide a beat with the wave of her bare arm and give the audience a rear view of her perfect hour-glass figure in a strapless (her trademark) black sheath (I mention this only because her glamorous good looks have been one of her major selling points). But balances were not ideal. The horns, principal James Sommerville and the BSO's first woman brass player, Rachel Childers, didn't have a great night either. Mutter got an enthusiastic standing ovation from the sold-out house, but I exited Symphony Hall in a bad mood, feeling simultaneously short-changed by the short program (opening night was even shorter) and that I had had to hear more than I wanted to.
Leaving Symphony Hall, I crossed the street and popped into Jordan Hall to see if the Longwood Symphony Orchestra concert was still in progress. This orchestra, made up mainly of medical personnel, was previously led by John McPhee, the Boston Ballet's fine music director. It has entered a season of auditions for McPhee's replacement (a similar situation to the BSO's, though obviously on a smaller scale). The first auditionee is one of my favorite conductors, Susan Davenny Wyner, who started her musical career as a radiant and much admired singer, often in contemporary music (Elliott Carter's Elizabeth Bishop song cycle was composed for her).
Her program was inspired: John Harbison's Remembering Gatsby (the ironically jazzy overture to his Great Gatsby opera), Beethoven's Emperor Concerto (with young Israeli pianist Ran Dank), Verdi's dramatic overture to La forza del destino, and Stravinsky's enchanting Technicolor Firebird Suite. I arrived in time for the Verdi and Stravinsky; marvelous, transparent performances that sounded as if Wyner had a direct line to the pulse of each of these very different composers. The Verdi sang, and so did the Stravinsky, especially in its tender Berceuse (Lullaby), and both were filled with mystery and life. Although I don't often get to the Longwood, I don't think I've ever heard them play with more color or fire. And even though both the Stravinsky and Mozart's violin concertos are big display pieces (Mozart wrote these concertos as vehicles for himself), unlike Mutter's Mozart, Wyner's Stravinsky had so much more to offer than mere display: a compelling narrative, a range of moods, a clear sense of rhythm and musical line. It reassured me about musical priorities, and it made me very happy.