Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
It's hard to believe that the Boston Symphony Orchestra performance Thursday night of Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Fourth Symphony (for strings) was the US premiere of the work; it was completed in 1947. At a time when conductors are actively seeking to avoid warhorses and introduce audiences to the unfamiliar, such an omission seems inexplicable. Hartmann's music doesn't fit easily into the standard categories of the 20th century, but it's full of expressive intensity.
Hartmann is credited with continuing the Austro-German symphonic tradition, which runs from the early classicists through Bruckner and Mahler. What came to mind Thursday night, however, was an inner link with the music of Shostakovich, Hartmann's rough contemporary. His music moves in long emotional arcs, building to shattering emotional climaxes that dissolve and come to rest in uncertainty. It's difficult to know whether Hartmann knew the Russian composer's music, but the Fourth Symphony seemed to breathe the same air, alternately despondent, lyrical, and brutal.
The first two movements are of equal proportions but contrasting characters. The first is a brooding adagio that begins with one of those arcs -- a winding and tonally ambiguous melody in the violins that reaches fullness at the very top of their range. A swirl of contrapuntal motion follows, and the climax features a delicate song in the solo violin that emerges over jagged outbursts in the lower strings. The second movement is a wild, sinister dance, full of angular lines and powerful, tricky rhythms. The final movement is slow again, but brief and, if anything, darker and more haunted than the first. Again it reaches a furious and dissonant peak, before ending with three ominous, hushed pizzicatos.
While it's a shame we had to wait almost 60 years to hear the Fourth, it's tough to imagine a better performance than the one guest conductor Ingo Metzmacher led. His style is fluid and demonstrative, and he guided the strings perfectly through the shifting moods and difficult transitions. The BSO played with unity, lyricism, and transparency. Concertmaster Malcolm Lowe's violin solo in the first movement was chillingly beautiful.
Mozart's ''Gran Partita" serenade followed. This lovely and genial creation, written for 12 winds and double bass, boasts the deepest and richest sound of any of Mozart's serenades. It's also the longest, lasting nearly an hour over seven movements, and you sense that Mozart found the instrumental creation so enticing he had trouble putting down his pen.
The performance began somewhat stiffly, lacking instrumental blend. Eventually, though, it took on all the requisite warmth and charm. The two slow movements were transfixing; the finale was an energetic romp. Oboist Keisuke Wakao and clarinetist William Hudgins provided eloquent solos throughout.