Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
When it comes to spacing out its periods of drought and abundance, the concert calendar knows no rules. Thursday night, less than 24 hours after the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra had Symphony Hall cheering its own youthful exuberance, the Boston Symphony Orchestra took the stage and delivered what was by a wide margin its most satisfying performance of the season. Music director James Levine was back on the podium, and he led Berg's Violin Concerto and Mahler's Ninth Symphony. They make an inspired pairing: two luminous late works from composers whose music shares a profound elective affinity.
Berg's Violin Concerto lives on its own lonely island as the one 12-tone work that's been truly accepted into the repertoire, and we know why that is so. If tonality, in Webern's metaphor, was an overripe fruit that had fallen from the tree, Berg lovingly placed it in a bowl to admire. In the Violin Concerto, he stacks his 12-tone deck to allow for some rich harmonies and pours into his music a generosity of expression occasioned by the tragic death of Alma Mahler's daughter Manon Gropius. This is beautiful, elegant 12-tone music that dreams of its own tonal past.
The soloist Thursday night was the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, a player who interprets challenging modern music with exquisite sensitivity. His superb performance was painted in half-tints and subtle iridescence. The orchestra under Levine was an equal partner.
Looming on the other side of intermission was Mahler's epic Ninth, his last completed symphony and a work to be savored. Which is exactly what Levine did, with unhurried tempos, a deep sense for the music's rhetorical structure, and more heartfelt expression than I have heard him bring to any work in many months. The inner movements had all of the earthy bite required, and the outer ones had formal rigor and poetry. There were too many highlights to pick out in a short review. Most memorable was Mahler's glorious finale, a leave-taking that you simply don't want to end. It was a shining moment for the BSO strings. The depth and sweetness of tone, the purity of intonation, and Levine's impeccable balancing of the string choir made this movement devastatingly effective. At the very end, you couldn't tell exactly where the music stopped and the silence began. Wherever that point was, Levine held it for a small eternity.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at email@example.com.