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CONCERT REVIEW

2 veterans guide BSO’s all-Schumann

Kurt Masur led the BSO and pianist Nelson Freire at Symphony Hall. Kurt Masur led the BSO and pianist Nelson Freire at Symphony Hall. (Stu Rosner)
By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / November 19, 2010

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Whether you were ready or not, the BSO is suddenly awash in Schumann. To mark the composer’s bicentenary, the orchestra is slipping in a full survey of his four symphonies over three programs, all taking place before the year is out. The veteran maestro Kurt Masur is on podium this week to do a generous share of the heavy lifting, leading the BSO in the First and Fourth Symphonies.

These works, especially the First, are spotted less frequently than you might think. But the truly unusual performance last night came from the Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, who made a rare local appearance as the soloist in the Schumann Piano Concerto. It was easily the best performance of this work I have heard in a very long time.

Freire is the real thing, a major keyboard artist with an astonishing technique whose main goal seems to be its own invisibility. He has, in other words, an uncanny ability to project the character and poetic essence that lies behind the notes. His Schumann Concerto last night was actually not flawless, but it mattered not a whit. This was supremely fluid playing that wrapped the solo line in a sense of fantasy and reverie. Downward runs swooped with calligraphic grace; dialogue with woodwinds eased into an exchange of confidences; and moments of the slow movement were floated with a remarkable lightness of touch and a soft beauty of tone, like outtakes from a dream.

The night was sturdily bookended by the two symphonies. Neither received a performance that was ultradramatic or fiercely articulate, but this was playing of sustained warmth and unforced grandeur. Masur is a seasoned, trustworthy interpreter of this core Central European repertoire. (The First Symphony, after all, was premiered by the ensemble with which he spent more than 25 years, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.)

Leading from memory and without a baton, he did not so much conduct as guide the orchestra, nudging and shaping along the way. He nonetheless managed to project the music’s essential character, the First Symphony’s “yearning for spring’’ and the more restless, wandering soul of the Fourth. The BSO played as if persuaded by his vision.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Kurt Masur, conductor

At: Symphony Hall, last night (repeats tomorrow).