Renowned maestro Kurt Masur led the Seattle Symphony in shining performances of Mozart and Bruckner.

Concert review |

One of the most memorable moments in my lifetime’s experience of Bruckner was of a soft brass chord in the Third Symphony. It shone like sunlight glinting on the surface of a calm sea. The conductor was Kurt Masur. So it was exciting to learn that the great German maestro had chosen music by Bruckner, along with Mozart’s 40th Symphony, for his long-awaited debut Thursday with the Seattle Symphony.

Bruckner’s Fourth has none of the wondrous rapt mysticism of his Seventh, the other most popular of his symphonies. It is all nature poetry, and this was a supremely natural performance, to such a point that Masur had no truck with the rather mannered little hesitations that Bruckner wrote into the bucolic horn calls of the scherzo, propelling them instead with exhilarating directness.

Speaking of horn calls, no performance of the Fourth can go far without a first horn of the highest caliber: the part is of central importance, and John Cerminaro brought unfailing purity and poetry of tone and phrasing to it. As in the fluent and cogent Mozart performance that opened the evening, the Bruckner found the orchestra responding to Masur’s batonless leadership with high artistry and obvious enthusiasm.

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Seattle’s superb brass choir issued one rich and sonorous proclamation after another. Michael Crusoe’s timpani sounded crisp and unfailingly punctual. The woodwinds gloried in their many solos, and there were frequent stretches of gorgeously saturated string tone, with the violas piercingly eloquent in the slow movement.

As a member of the Chicago Symphony commented years ago after we had both heard a Mahler symphony played by Masur with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, “It just went to prove that you don’t always have to play everything as loudly as possible.”

Perhaps the most spectacular thing about this Fourth was that there was nothing spectacular about it. Paced without a trace of affectation, it was simply human and warmly spiritual. These are qualities that almost define Bruckner, and it was no surprise to find them in the work of a conductor whose moral authority helped materially to prevent the collapse of the East German regime in 1989 from turning violent.

He was widely regarded at the time as a potential first president for the reunited Germany, but decided he wanted a more challenging job, and became music director of the New York Philharmonic instead.

Bernard Jacobson: