Under the baton of music director Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony devoted the first half of its program to the music of Richard Strauss. This material was recorded as part of Nelsons’ ongoing project with Deutsche Grammophon to capture all of Strauss’ major orchestral works with both the BSO and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the other ensemble which he helms.

Christina and Michelle Naughton, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony
© Aram Boghosian

A true rarity opened: the Love Scene from the opera Feuersnot, a score which the BSO hasn’t explored since 1911 (just a few years after Strauss himself conducted the work here). Feuersnot was Strauss’ second foray into opera following the critical failure of Guntram, and its premiere in Vienna was led by no less than Mahler. While an early entry in the composer’s operatic career, Feuersnot followed on the heels of the major tone poems, and his musical language is abundantly evident.

The Love Scene is an instrumental interlude just before the opera’s close, and serves as a brief but effective concert piece. Resonant strings opened, grounded by a pair of harps. The amber warmth grew to a red-hot intensity as the music surged, leading to its redemptive, brilliant ending.

Andris Nelsons
© Aram Boghosian

The tone poem Death and Transfiguration followed, aurally occupying a similar vein, but thematically quite different with its religious underpinnings. Hesitant beginnings ominously signaled the end of life. The oboe serves an important role in the work, and principal oboe John Ferrillo’s execution was commendable. I was further struck by a lovely section of dialogue between concertmaster and harp. More agitated material made substantial technical demands on the orchestra, surmounted with precision, and pointed towards the longing, arching theme that closed. Matters grew in urgency only to capitulate to peaceful resolution, a radiance enhanced by the warm acoustics of Symphony Hall. 

Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen were to be the soloists in Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, K365, but were forced to bow out owing to delays in procuring a travel visa. Another sibling duo was booked, however: Philadelphia-based sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton, making their BSO debuts. An orchestral introduction was crisply articulated, setting the stage for the pianists’ entrance with anticipation. The duo offered stylish, effervescent playing, encouraged by natural, effortless communication. One perhaps wanted them to tease out greater variety, but in the cadenza much of their personalities shone through.

Christina and Michelle Naughton and the Boston Symphony
© Aram Boghosian

The central Andante was noted for its intricate ornamentations, while the finale displayed an insouciant charm. Though this concerto may not be one of Mozart’s more profound works, the joy from all the musicians on stage was palpable. As an encore, the sisters offered Le Jardin féerique from Ravel’s Mother Goose. It couldn’t have been any lovelier.