There was something startling, electrifying about the saxophone solo in the weekend performances of Ravel's ''Bolero'' that Zubin Mehta directed to close the New York Philharmonic season.
The tune rang out with blazing authority; it was played with a freedom, a nuance, an insinuating thrust that one hardly expects from a classical player and that one almost never encounters in any orchestra. The orchestra was on its finest behavior, playing repetition after repetition with increasing tension, substance, and power.
At the end, when the soloists stood for their bows, the reason that sax solo had been so noteworthy was revealed. No one quite looks like the white bearded and maned Gerry Mulligan, one of jazz's greats. And no one quite sounds like him , either. It was an extra touch of veracity that could only happen in New York.
While each solo was handsomely rendered by the Philharmonic pros, it seemed that no one took a cue from Mulligan to relax the strict metrical and musical line and really interpret the music. Seiji Ozawa asked for it once at the Boston Symphony during a 'Bolero,' and the results were thrilling, refreshing, invigorating. For the most part, it is the lack of this slightly jazzy feeling that robs ''Bolero'' of its last ounce of power.
Clearly Ravel ''heard'' jazz when he wrote this piece. It takes a jazz artist to remind us of something that bad or lazy tradition has made us forget or ignore. Mulligan's phrasing offered the effortless insight that comes from a lifetime of living with a certain type or style of music.
It is also this sort of ingrained, almost subconscious, awareness that gave Alicia de Larrocha's astounding account of the complete Albeniz ''Iberia'' such elan. She does not have to find a way to communicate the essence of Spanish rhythms (without which any account of this music cannot begin to communicate anything), for she knows them naturally.
Yet this rhythmic veracity is one of the reasons Albeniz's keyboard masterpiece is so rarely assayed by pianists. They get it all technically and musically correct, but that flexibility, that indigenous understanding that gives the performance an implicit authority, is rarely absorbed or acquired.
The 12 pieces that make up this loose suite were never, in fact, intended to be performed together, though certainly it makes for a rewarding encounter when performed this magnificently. The music has been deemed impossible to play by pianists with an intrinsically more formidable technique than Miss de Larrocha's. But she has always transcended any apparent limitations, and it seems quite unlikely that any public will hear these pieces played more eloquently, sensitively, and consummately than they were at Avery Fisher Hall under the umbrella of the Great Performers at Lincoln Center series.