If there was a surfeit of beauty in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's concert on Saturday night at the Kennedy Center, who could complain?
Sir Colin Davis, the orchestra's principal guest conductor, opened with the two familiar nocturnes of Debussy, "Clouds" and "Festivals." With his left hand quietly reining in the strings, Sir Colin held the dynamic level of the music to the wisps of sound that are called for but that so often expand into thunderheads. The playing was of an exquisite texture that produced the kind of hush throughout the hall that often is not achievable until much later in a concert.
The whispered closing of "Clouds" made all the more thrilling the outburst that opens "Festivals." And again, Sir Colin's feeling for subtle balances produced all the gorgeous colors of the score. The muted trumpets did not sound quite as distant as they might have, but the rhythmic pulses in the pizzicato strings and harp that ushered them in were of a very special kind.
There was more Debussy to come in a performance of "La Mer" that matched the rare beauty that had filled the nocturnes. The playing was of the highest order of virtuosity. Some conductors take the closing passages more broadly, heightening the effect of the brass choir's chanting. Sir Colin opted for a different brand of excitement.
The Seventh Symphony of Dvorak, with its totally different mood, was as fine as anything in the Debussy. The Boston musicians' response to Sir Colin had the warm sound and relaxed manner that suit Dvorak perfectly.