Cho-Liang Lin wears black the way Johnny Cash did-the music stands out more when the clothes are dark. When he took the stage last Tuesday, he didn’t bring a baton, but his hands, his eyes, and his body told the SBCO everything it needed to know about Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20. A glance said, “Keep it clear and simple;” a wave told them, “Make this phrase grow slowly;” a shrug cautioned, “ease off on the end;” and they understood. The serenade ebbed and flowed thoughtfully, going to greater depths than usual.
The mood changed suddenly when Andre-Michel Schub arrived, beaming and nearly jumping for joy as he sat down for the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. This very familiar concerto began majestically, and then became more and more playful as Schub’s sense of humor intruded on its well-known melodies, culminating in a very funny pause in the cadenza. The work was over too soon, and both Schub and Cho-Liang Lin grinned in triumph.
After the intermission, the SBCO returned to play Schubert’s Symphony No.6, D.589, known as the “Little C Major,” in contrast to Schubert’s other C Major symphony, No. 9, known as the “Great.” The symphony, in Cho-Liang Lin’s and the SBCO’s capable hands, didn’t seem little at all, although it did land somewhere between Beethoven and Mozart in the balance between bold themes and symmetrical, elegant melodies. This symphony, little or big, has many surprises: a tiny motif suddenly leaps to full volume; simple melodies take sudden sharp turns. The SBCO brought them all out, clear and full of light, shining against the background of a dark night in late winter.