Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
Edo de Waart's program at the Boston Symphony Orchestra this week exerts more artistic than box-office appeal, so there was more than a smattering of empty seats Thursday night. But the Dutch conductor offered a significant and enjoyable program of works that we don't get to hear very often.
He led off with Dvorak's Piano Concerto, unplayed at BSO concerts for 34 years. This piece has never really caught on, despite some irresistible melodies and the advocacy of a handful of great pianists of the past. Now Pierre-Laurent Aimard has taken up the cause; he's made a wonderful recent CD of the concerto for Teldec with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and he was the soloist Thursday night.
There are two problems with the piece. Each movement is in a somewhat different style -- the first movement suggests Beethoven and Brahms; the second, Chopin; the third, Tchaikovsky, whose First Concerto was written a couple of years earlier. Also, although the Dvorak Concerto is abundantly difficult, he did not write for effect and compose standing ovations into the music the way Tchaikovsky did: He was aware of the problem, but never got around to fixing it. Nevertheless the music is subtle and captivating, and the French pianist played it with beautiful tone, intelligence, elegance, and a dash of fire. Like Andre Watts with the Israel Philharmonic earlier in the week, he kept an open score in the piano, although with less reason. De Waart led affectionately.
For the orchestral half of the program, de Waart chose two works by musical mavericks, Charles Ives and Leos Janacek, composers whose work no one could have predicted, and no one has successfully imitated. Ives's "Thanksgiving and Forefather's Day," a BSO premiere, is an American soundscape of hymn tunes moving at different speeds and in different keys through the piece, ending in a glorious peal of bells -- five percussionists going full tilt. It's also a workout for the low brass, who met the challenge.
In some respects, Janacek was a minimalist decades before minimalism was invented: The music in his Sinfonietta is built on repeating patterns, but they are irregular and they require attention; to repetition he adds a sense of orchestral color, folk rhythms, and a gift for melody.
To keep up with the shifts of tempo and meter, a conductor needs hands as "sure-footed" as a mountain goat. De Waart managed deftly, and the sound of the brass, particularly at the end, was glorious.