"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful." So runs Sammy Cahn's lyric for the 1945 holiday favorite "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" Substitute "music" for "fire" and you have a good summary of this weekend's symphony concerts.
This weekend at the symphony, BBC Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena is on the podium for a series of variations on the theme of the theme and variations. Which is not as confusing as it looks. All three of the works on the program are examples of the "theme and variations" form, in which a single melodic thread is used to spin a complex tapestry of music.
For over 200 years audiences have been captivated by the piano, and with good reason. A skilled performer can transform the instrument into a veritable orchestral palette of color, range, special effects and dynamics. Such was the case with the brilliant Chinese-born pianist Wuna Meng, a 2012 competition winner of the Artist Presentation Society, who performed on March 17 at the Ethical Society.
Powell Hall was packed to the last row of the balcony Saturday night for a coruscating Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough (who had just performed the First Concerto the night before) earning a Purple Heart at the keyboard and a driving Beethoven 5th with Peter Oundjian at the podium.
Rachmaninoff’s Second may not be the best of his four piano concerti—both the revised First and (my favorite) the Third are more economical and generate more momentum—but it’s unquestionably his most popular.
Pianist Stephen Hough has both tremendous power and a delicate touch. Hans Graf is a conductor who, while he maintains a disciplined presence on the podium, can nevertheless be passionate and lyrical.