The Boston Symphony approaches Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with a proprietary air, and justifiably so. Without the intervention of one of its past conductors, Serge Koussevitzky, who in 1943 almost literally pulled Bartok from his deathbed to write the work, the music would never have come into being.
It seemed double appropriate that the orchestra should play the Concerto Saturday night in its appearance under Seiji Ozawa at the Kennedy Center, since this year marks both the 100th season of music-making for the ensemble and the 100th aniversary of Bartok's birth. Filled with virtuoso writing for every instrument, the Concerto sparked some brilliant displays by the Boston musicians. The intelligence and precision of their playing lent and ebullient sheen to Bartok's ideas, most notable in the whirlwind finale, which Ozaws controlled masterfully. Solo passages of beauty and character abounded -- too many to even think of singling out any one section or individual.
Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, which opened the program, proved another matter. Though there were many lovely moments, Ozawa failed to find a consistent interpretation, either in the overall work or the individual movements. Lacking a broad concept, the music moved in emotional fits and starts, veering from lyrical to ponderous, from powerful to sometimes merely energetic, with most unsatisyfying results.