Mason Bates, the Kennedy Center’s composer in residence, wrote “Resurrexit” in 2018, in celebration of Honeck’s 60th birthday. The piece mixes some less-than-familiar elements — a passage of plainchant, the hollow knocks of a wood-plank bell — into a familiar, comfortably predictable trajectory: long buildups over slow-moving harmonies; simmering, shimmering orchestration; a big, brassy peroration. The performance initially felt lush but static: The long string drones underpinning the motivic play stayed a little too passive. The colors were deep, though, and Honeck pulled out some splendid, vibrant noise at the climax.
That mix of flair and volume was more sparingly applied in Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto (K. 491). Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky privileged control and evenness; the often dense weave of decoration was unfailingly clean and poised. It was somewhat at odds with Honeck’s penchant for billowing, surging phrases, and some tension in the reins was occasionally noticeable. The one place Lugansky really let loose — a flashy first-movement cadenza, adapted from one by the 19th-century virtuoso Johann Nepomuk Hummel — hinted at stormier possibilities. But, for the most part, this was sous-vide Mozart, most impressive for the precision at which the temperature were maintained.
Maybe in reaction, Honeck cranked up the heat for Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. The work has a reputation for broad geniality; Honeck’s hospitality was extravagant and even overwhelming. The dynamic range was huge, from the barest audibility (at one point, practically disappearing behind the whisper of the Kennedy Center’s HVAC system) to a massive, saturated force. The orchestra rewarded Honeck’s assured, efficient choreography with tight, responsive playing.
One could nitpick: Honeck’s string-focused approach, with that section receiving the most detailed attention, meant that woodwind and brass phrases sometimes seemed to have less shape and verve. Nevertheless, the overall effect was exciting and grand.
The program repeats Saturday at 8 p.m.