The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra shone from start to finish during Friday night’s concert of Beethoven and Shostakovich at Carnegie Hall. Led by conductor Mariss Jansons, the Orchestra brought their beaming enthusiasm and remarkably cohesive texture to every note. Not only that, but each note was infused with a sort of insistent freshness as the musicians poured forth adventurous interpretations of two familiar works.

Mitsuko Uchida © Richard Avedon
Mitsuko Uchida
© Richard Avedon

Joining the Orchestra as soloist for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major, Mitsuko Uchida brought her own unique artistry to the table, blending her introspective runs and trills with the leaping, glorious strings and Mr Jansons' spring-loaded conducting. Ms Uchida’s opening chords rang out serenely, almost leisurely, before being echoed by the orchestra. Her touch was light, brilliant, flawless; the keys were pressed – not struck, not hammered – as she shifted gears from the delicate opening to more resonant hues and then to playfulness and then to urgency, all within a matter of a few minutes.

Ms Uchida, like the orchestra, brought a modernistic sound to her Beethoven, injecting the classical themes and repetitions with a sense of the Schubert and other Romantic composers they preceded. The falling chords during the first movement were almost impressionistic, and the legato phrases of the second were heavy with emotion. Her chords were powerful without sounding clamorous, her fingerwork rapid without becoming flighty. The sheen of her accented notes was never tarnished by excessivity as she navigated the first movement cadenza, trills and runs ending in an occasional flourish, chattering with herself and then with the orchestra, veritably hopping off the piano bench during the revels of the final cadence.

The second movement began with the reproachful theme from the strings, answered with a chastened response from the piano, and then the ongoing conversation between the brusque orchestra, first decisive and then suddenly murmuring a hesitant reprisal of their opening theme after a wondrous spiraling out and back in by Ms Uchida. The third movement was much more light and energetic in its conversation, the tension breaking and then bubbling over immediately. The music frothed into an infectious tide of sounds cantering from major to minor and major again, as the final cadence burst out with a final spurt of energy. From end to end, the performance sparkled, whether twinkling softly during the first movement or glittering wildly during the last. Ms Uchida’s encore was a quietly beautiful Sarabande from Bach's French Suite no. 5 in G major, BWV816, dappling us with light now as if through the curtains of a dim peaceful room, her fingers tiptoeing through sunbeams.

What followed, a rendition of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 5 in D minor, was just as impressive. The strings once again coalesced into a single unit, a force to be reckoned with from the opening thirty-second note springing to the minor sixth above. This opening theme reappeared in more and more chaotic manifestations, while other instruments ran off in other directions with different melodies: the xylophone galloping, the flute gliding. Mr Jansons was tireless in his steering of this vast sea of musicians, diving from one side of the podium to the other. The end of this first movement was more startlingly haunting than I’d heard before.

The Allegretto proceeded similarly, with the relentless echoing of a theme from various instruments: a sort of demented, lilting dance heard across the orchestra, stumbling through a first violin solo, following in the flute, later heard in pizzicato plucks from the violins as the drum thumps comically beneath these repetitions. With the third movement’s return to a more subdued, ominous sound world, the orchestra receded into warm, quiet chords, achieving a richness in feeling and timbre from the harp to the basses, from the beginning to the shimmering end. The final movement, conveyed with palpable excitement from Mr Jansons and his orchestra, was delivered at rapid fire intensity, the violin bows slicing through the air at such speeds as to become blurry to the human eye, the music swarming in hushed volumes during a trumpet passage, and finally rushing head-on to the blaring blaze of the conclusion.

This time the encore was more of the previous composer: an interlude from Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a fanfare of brass and explosive melodies that left a silly, nonsensical aftertaste mingling with the awe and wonder inspired by the symphony.