His forcefulness in his right hand sometimes tipped into rawness — which, in passages of worried repetition, added an intriguing note of obsessiveness but otherwise felt too steely for such an intimate space. In the Rondo finale, though, he and the orchestra shared a graceful mixture of lightness and weight.
In 1965, the Philharmonic premiered the final version of Julia Perry’s “Study for Orchestra,” but hadn’t reprised it until a one-off last year. Also known by an earlier title, “A Short Piece for Orchestra,” it is certainly that: Barely seven minutes long, it opens punchily, with heated strings and sardonic brasses, then enters a slower section of poetic winds and quietly suspended harmonies. The music turns blocky and dramatic again, with the vehemence of a Bernard Herrmann film score, before a softening ensemble, with touches of celesta and piano, is surprised by a brief, fierce coda.
Perry’s “Study” felt connected — across the Beethoven concerto and the intermission that followed — to Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, another work whose swaths of high spirits are tinged with a bit too much aggression, a clenched grin. And both pieces relax into melancholy passages of seeming sincerity, haunted by eerie mists.
Shostakovich wrote it as World War II came to an end, and originally planned something huge and triumphant, akin to Beethoven’s full-chorus Ninth. When he delivered a slighter, merrier piece, less than half an hour long, some were charmed, while others — including, dangerously, officials in Stalin’s government — felt he had failed to meet the historic moment.
The degree to which the music is ironic — its bubbly passages even politically subversive — is unclear, a familiar ambiguity from a composer adept at playing all the angles. Its sprightliness in a sober time recalls Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, written three decades earlier, which the Philharmonic played under van Zweden in February.