Elder brings eclectic program to BSO

By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / January 15, 2011

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Reprinted from late editions of yesterday’s Globe.

British conductor Mark Elder is back on the Boston Symphony Orchestra podium this week, leading the orchestra in a rather idiosyncratic program: one part piano recital, one part tour of neglected British orchestral music, and one part straight-ahead standard repertoire by Mozart (the Piano Concerto No. 21) and Strauss (“Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks’’).

Thursday night in Symphony Hall, the first half was devoted to the music of Debussy and Delius, and it fared best, beginning with an intriguing opening gambit.

The British composer Colin Matthews has orchestrated all of Debussy’s piano Preludes, and Elder chose two to present here — “Feuilles Mortes’’ from Book II and “Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’ouest’’ from Book I — each preceded by their original piano versions in performances by Lars Vogt, the evening’s soloist.

Orchestrations of various sorts make their way onto programs with some frequency, but one seldom has the opportunity to hear them in such close proximity to their originals. And Matthews has done an excellent job in imagining how Debussy might have heard these Preludes reborn as works for large orchestra.

In the ensemble’s “Feuilles Mortes,’’ the subtle harmonic tints of the original as well as its air of wistfulness were played out to wonderful coloristic effect. And the drama, violence, and sheer dynamism of “Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’ouest’’ also scaled up naturally to a vast orchestral canvas.

It had been 70 years since the BSO last played the next work, Delius’s “Paris: A Nocturne.’’ Written in 1899 after years of this British composer’s own Paris sojourn, the piece is a kind of rolling cityscape, the aural impressions of a flaneur taking in the vibrant sights, sounds, and darkly mysterious allure of the Parisian night.

It came across as a charmingly rambling work, full of atmospheric writing and starkly shifting moods. John Ferrillo’s oboe solos handsomely framed the calmer moments of twilight and dawn.

After intermission, Vogt’s account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 boasted some articulate, fleet-fingered playing but also suffered from a not-yet-settled quality, with some imprecise balances overshadowing a portion of the poetry in the slow movement.

And for me, unfortunately, Elder’s interpretation of the Strauss never really came together, full of inelastic tempos that made it seem at times that he was doing battle with both the orchestra and the vibrant theatricality of this music. Richard Sebring ably dispatched the horn solos.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at


At: Symphony Hall, Thursday (repeats tonight and Tuesday)