Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine, interviewed by Charlie Rose on PBS earlier this week, admitted there are some composers whose music he feels no need to conduct. Pressed for details, he said he loves to listen to Bruckner and Shostakovich, but can't find a meaningful way to conduct their music himself.
Paradoxically last night's BSO concert brought a Shostakovich/Bruckner program, done on a very high level by guest conductor Kurt Masur. It is good that Levine, like his predecessor Seiji Ozawa, wants to make sure that works he wouldn't necessarily want to lead himself are done well by others.
Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto brought the return of poker-faced violinist Vadim Repin, whose playing won one of the most enthusiastic ovations granted to a soloist this season. In most respects, Repin deserved the applause and shouting, because he played this long and difficult concerto with virtuosity, concentration, stamina, fabulous intonation, and glowing tone; his handling of the big cadenza between the last two movements was masterly in design and execution. But one did hear more of the white-hot core of emotion in the shaping of Masur and in the playing of the orchestra (the bassoon section deserved a cheer), and this is a concerto that is dominated by introspective examination of intense and turbulent feelings.
Bruckner is a polarizing composer; his music means everything to some people, little to others. Masur's approach to the Fourth Symphony, ''The Romantic," was unusual but convincing. The usual heaviness of emphasis was gone, and instead much of it was transparent, lively, dancing, and quirky; the conductor seemed to be enjoying himself. From the opening horn solo by James Sommerville, triumphantly poised in the high register, the playing was alert, responsive and purposeful -- the destination of the finale, when the gates of heaven swing wide, was honestly and imaginatively arrived at, and the sound was full and jubilant, not a stampede.