Beethoven feast

The Boston Philharmonic's season-opening concert of Beethoven's ''Coriolan'' Overture, Violin Concerto, and Fifth Symphony - all of which will travel to Alice Tully Hall in New York on Saturday - drew droves to Jordan Hall and Sanders Theatre last weekend.

They came expecting something more than just another big Beethoven smorgasbord, and they got what they came for.

Violinist Peter Zazofsky played the Violin Concerto with ardor and care. His slender tone and lack of projection found compensation in a fluid, singing interpretation and a compelling vision of the concerto's poetic imagery. The mostly volunteer orchestra behind him has obviously grown lean and resourceful under conductor Benjamin Zander's regimen of tackling the big pieces seriously. This is still not a powerhouse orchestra in terms of sheer sound projection, but these weekend performances showed more muscle than usual.

Zander flew in the face of common practice by playing the first movement of the ubiquitous Fifth Symphony at almost twice the usual pulse rate. In other words, he followed Beethoven's own tempo indications, which made the crosscurrents of the work come like riptides through the cellos and basses. More important, it reduced much of the material to energy-producing contrafigures, instead of monumental earth forms. Funnily enough, what we got from this reduction of proportions was an enlargement of powers. That's because events set rapidly in motion in the first movement take on incredible force in the third and fourth, if we haven't already been dragged ceremoniously through stuff that Beethoven clearly intended as secondary.

Instead of the rushing, confused finish one normally hears, this Fifth burst out in an illuminating constellation of figures that settled, once and for all, questions of accent and dynamics embodied in the symphony's earliest moments. The power of the finale - and there was power to burn - came as much from musical meaning as aural fury.

And that's the best kind.

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