If the word virtuoso is thrown about a bit too much for your taste, as it is for mine, you should have been at Symphony Hall last weekend to see what it really means.
Polish violinist Henryk Szeryng helped celebrate his golden-jubilee year by playing Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The piece is played so often that it bares both performer and conductor, not only by inevitable comparison with the great recordings and performances through history, but with those played just last season or last week.
Szeryng has enough conviction to go easy on the vibrato and not push or pull the tempo for effect. This is the mark of someone with the confidence and experience not to crowd-please by showing off mere ability, of which Szeryng has plenty. What you get instead is a more sublime kind of crowd-pleasing - that ''interpretation'' that best reveals the essence of the composer.
In Beethoven's case, this is pure, lucid, and eloquent structure, not necessarily wonderful melody or harmony or counterpoint. Thus, for Szeryng, facility tempered with the most refined artistry equals true virtuosity. The crowd agreed.
So if some say the test of interpretation is finding the best coincidence of composer intentions and performer personality, Szeryng seems to be telling us, ''Get yourself out of the way and let the composer shine through.'' The moral of the story is that it takes 50 years to learn how.