Ups and Downs of the Boston Music Season, mostly Boston Symphony with Andris Nelsons, 2016-2017

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Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO

Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.

The preceding season in Boston began with the BSO’s magnificent  concert presentation of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, led by Nelsons, with soprano Renée Fleming and other fine singing actors—a concert I was happy to describe and extol at the time, on this site. Nothing subsequent at BSO during the season rose to this level—maybe too much to ask—though there were some very good performances, along with unsatisfactory ones.

The fall brought a spate of Brahms performances. I once heard the philosopher Stanley Cavell say, when I mentioned to him having attended a Brahms concert, “Brahms appeals to those of us who don’t feel fully expressed.” (Stanley Cavell not fully expressed?—that’s another story.) Brahms’s music is full of feeling—tender feeling, cultivation and enjoyment of beauty; rage, a sense of foreboding, a sense of loss; and more. And there is always the intellectual pleasure of hearing a master work out the possibilities of sonata form, or theme and variations, or simply the possibilities—always new twists— of tonal harmony and counterpoint. Still, with the accumulation of feeling and creative inventiveness, there is often the sense in Brahms of a driving artistic motivation that will not come fully clear, or fully put itself across. One seldom feels the purity and directness of expression of, say, the Schumann Piano Concerto or the Schubert Great C-Major Symphony. Exceptions perhaps are the Clarinet Quintet and some of the late solo piano pieces, with these works’ uncanny, consistent melancholy; or the apocalyptic, Last-Judgment mood of the Fourth Symphony (the sources and effect of which mood Brahms biographer Jan Swafford writes about so eloquently—one source of the mood being Brahms’s great dismay, though he was not Jewish, at growing anti-Semitism in Vienna—he felt that his civilization was crashing down).

In any case, the way for the performer to work with Brahms, conveying the feeling and variety, the intellectual accomplishment, and the frustration of expression, such as it is, is to believe in the music, at least moment by moment, to ponder every gesture of the composer and make the most of it. If intuition or study leads to insight about the larger rhythm and structure of a piece, so much the better.

Andris Nelsons opened the Brahms series October 6th with the German Requiem in, unfortunately, a not very effective performance. It was mostly too slow, and plodded, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sounded coarse. This great musical acknowledgment of human mortality and loss, this great enactment of mourning, needs close attention to the words and how to utter them, and to the musical feeling associated with the words moment by moment. There is variety—peaceful resignation, grief and pain, at times bright hope, a sense of transcendence, even ecstasy. Soprano Camilla Tilling and strong-voiced baritone Thomas Hampson sang the solos creditably enough. But with the orchestra and chorus, the needed care and flexibility of presentation were not forthcoming. There were a couple of tear-inducing or shiver-inducing moments, but the piece mostly went by as a vague and monotonous outburst.

Hélène Grimaud

Hélène Grimaud

The best of the BSO short season of Brahms were the performances in early and mid November of the two piano concertos, the turbulent and romantic D-Minor, and the grand and monumental B-flat Major, both with soloist Hélène Grimaud. Ms. Grimaud is a striking beauty, with a strong stage presence. She summons a big piano sound, and commands the keyboard virtuosically from bottom to top. She played the pieces meditatively, with a fine thinking-on-her-feet quality, finding interest and beauty in every phrase, strong or tender, as if writing the piece as she played. Nelsons and the orchestra were quite in synch with her, phrasing expressively, keeping textures clear. Martha Babcock played the cello solo in the slow movement of the B-flat concerto very movingly. It seemed a fitting tribute to long-time BSO Principal Cellist Jules Eskin, who had died just a few days before. Ms. Grimaud was a good choice for these concerts. She seemed to inspire everybody. I hope she will be asked back.

Nelsons moved on to the four Brahms Symphonies, each paired with one of the piano concertos, either in its first or a repeat performance—odd programming. I heard only the First and Third Symphonies.

The First Symphony, in the “tragic” key of C-Minor, begins indeed tragically, with throbbing rhythm, underscored by timpani, and wailing woodwinds sounding like the lamenters in a Sophocles chorus. From here we move on through building tensions, relaxations into tenderness and a relishing of beauty, forebodings, and toward the end of the piece stirring brass chorales that seem to open up the next world. The orchestra on this occasion, though, played with an astringent string sound, which was all wrong, making impossible any real flow of feeling. Brahms must be sensuous, or the music is simply not there. Nelsons conveyed well the structure and bones of the piece, Brahms’ expert handling of Beethovenian sonata form (even imitating, rather, the overall shape of the Ninth Symphony). But Brahms’ emotional journey did not materialize. One didn’t feel much.

Early in his tenure with BSO Nelsons led an effective and organic Third Symphony, full of building tensions and storms, and soaring lyricism in response to the storms. This time, as with the First, one simply didn’t feel much. It seemed just notes going by.

Nelsons can be very good working with this orchestra, eliciting fine playing, with often a gorgeous string sound—the astringent Brahms First was an exception. Nelsons often shows a love of music and an enthusiasm that are infectious for the audience. A couple of years ago he led, as said, a very good Brahms Third. Early on, he led a powerful and moving Tchaikovsky “Pathétique” Symphony—everything just right—and recently a splendid Mahler Ninth, full of anguish and ecstasy, quite brilliantly played by the orchestra, everything, from the structural point of view, in just proportion. Bruckner has been up and down, with a superficial, unsatisfactory Seventh a couple of years ago; an effective Third spring of 2016, where Bruckner’s characteristic fragmentariness and odd juxtapositions seemed to issue from a deep spiritual cause, everything inevitable as one episode followed another; and then a Sixth Symphony this past mid-April where the fragments seemed just to fly apart, nothing adding up, merely a playing of the notes.

Dimitri Shostakovich

Dimitri Shostakovich

Nelsons is always good with Shostakovich, with whose music he seems to feel a deep rapport. He gets the right sound, whether lush, sparkling, or screaming. And he seems fully in tune with, and conveys very effectively, the mood that gives rise to this music—the wintry and fearful mood of life in Russia under Stalin, and Russia’s experience of suffering during World War II—with, of course, occasional turns to the spiritually positive, to enjoyment of life, even to playfulness. Since coming to Boston Nelsons has led a powerful Eighth Symphony, perhaps the grimmest and also the most uplifting of them all; and effective accounts of the Fifth Symphony, at first fatalistic, then determined to be triumphant; the sparkling Ninth; and the meditative Tenth. This past season Nelsons led a fine Sixth Symphony in mid-April—a work opening with a large, contemplative, and musically inventive slow movement, countering the rather hollow, tub-thumping celebratory quality of the finale of the Fifth (sometimes Shostakovich felt pressured to fake a good mood). The Sixth’s impressive, strong beginning is followed by two short high-spirited movements that have the wit to know they are a bit false. Nelsons and the orchestra managed just the right touch for all of this.

Earlier, in mid-February, Nelsons offered the Shostakovich Seventh, or “Leningrad,” Symphony. This came off as well as might be. But I would be happy to see this piece retired from the orchestra’s (or any orchestra’s) repertoire, with the large first movement’s idiotic, endless-seeming series of repetitions, with slight variation, of a march theme, à la Ravel’s Bolero, but lacking that work’s charm and power. The subsequent, shorter movements give occasion for some nice solo woodwind playing and atmospheric strings (the city streets at twilight), but offer nothing to make worthwhile sitting through the long monotony of what precedes them. I look forward to Nelsons’ presentation in the coming season of one of Shostakovich’s best pieces, the impressive, disturbing, musically experimental Fourth Symphony.

Nelsons deserves credit for presenting a reasonable amount of new music during his tenure so far; notably, new work from Europe and Russia. The high point has been the performance season before last, with soprano (and sometime conductor) Barbara Hannigan, of Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s highly original Let me tell you…, setting the text of Paul Griffiths made up of words used by Ophelia in Hamlet, exploring and elaborating on this character’s inner life. This past season Nelsons led a couple more contemporary—let’s not hesitate to say it—masterpieces: first, in early February, with extraordinary countertenor Bejun Mehta, George Benjamin’s orchestral song cycle Dream of the Song, setting medieval and modern Andalusian texts on love, passion, and spirituality, with Benjamin’s customary orchestral inventiveness and, when called for, marvelous development of interplay between voice and orchestra. The orchestra, alternately, sparkled, swooned, and shocked, just as it should in this piece. Mehta was an uncanny presence, and very convincing dramatically. Later in February, on the program with the unfortunate Leningrad Symphony, came Sofia Gubaidulina’s new Triple Concerto for violin, cello, and bayan (an accordion-like instrument), commissioned by the BSO. This music has some kinship with Shostakovich’s sober vein. But here the three soloists seem to be singing out not against the life of their times, but against fate itself, the human condition itself, or, rather, they seem Norns proclaiming our fate and condition. The eloquent soloists were Baiba Skride, violin; Harriet Krijgh, cello; and Elsbeth Moser, bayan. It was great to have Mme. Gubaidulina present, in her eighties, to enjoy the fine performance and to receive the audience’s very warm applause. And thanks to Nelsons for repeating, still in February, his clear and forceful account from a couple of years ago, of the late Gunther Schuller’s evocative and colorful Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee—a nice nod by Nelsons to American music and, specifically, a Boston composer.

Thomas Adès conducting the BSO. Photo Stu Rosner.

Thomas Adès conducting the BSO. Photo Stu Rosner.

The prospects for good contemporary music at BSO have been greatly enhanced by the appointment of Thomas Adès as Artistic Partner. Adés is one of the world’s most significant living composers, and he is a first-rate conductor—he has the technique and understanding of the orchestra, and he is always interesting, always has something to say with the pieces he takes up, old and new. He has guest-conducted BSO a number of times in recent years, leading marvelous Franck and Mussorgsky, and a number of his own pieces. Last fall, in early November, assuming his new position with BSO, Adès led a lively—with a little somberness— account of Benjamin Britten’s early orchestral work, the lively-over-somber Sinfonia da Requiem; and a spellbinding account of Sibelius’s late mystical, forest-spirit tone poem Tapiola—here the orchestras winds and brass played with a wonderful graded subtlety of phrasing and tone. The program was rounded out with Adès’s Totentanz (Dance of Death) for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and orchestra. This rich and dramatic work sets a 15th-century text that accompanied a German frieze depicting Death’s encounter with a series of individuals burdened by sinning ways of life, as they come to life’s end. Baritone Mark Stone was excellent as Death, as was mezzo Christianne Stotijn representing the series of various human characters. One felt one had experienced a great opera, human and dynamic. This work was far more interesting and effective than Jörg Widmann’s pounding and monotonous Trauermarsch (Funeral March) for piano and orchestra, which Nelsons led back in early October, featuring powerhouse pianist Yefim Bronfman, on the unhappy program with the Brahms German Requiem.

Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle

The supreme orchestral concert of the fall was the visit of the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle on November 11th. The Berliners play with an intensity, clarity, and musical purposiveness no other orchestra can equal—great as some others are. It is always amazing to hear Berlin. Rattle, arguably the greatest living conductor, has kept the orchestra up to the high standard of his predecessors, Claudio Abbado and Herbert von Karajan (to go back no further than what I can personally attest to). The concert opened with a tribute to Pierre Boulez, who had died six months or so previously: a performance of his relatively short piece for an ensemble of fifteen, Éclat (splinter, fragment, explosion, shimmering of light). The piece is scored for a few woodwind and brass instruments, guitar, mandolin, viola, cello, bells and various other percussion, harp, and piano. Boulez plays brilliantly with the various sounds of the instruments an their combinations, and, notably, with the various durations of pitch the instruments can hold. The Berliners rendered everything very expressively and with a dancing clarity—shimmering light, indeed. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s daughter Majella joined the orchestra as a guest, very ably undertaking the piano part (the instrument with longest-duration pitches). It seems remiss of the BSO not to have paid tribute to Boulez last season. But then under Nelsons we hear not much of the modernist masters—a little Bartók and some unsatisfactory Stravinsky (an utterly dead Rite of Spring a couple of years ago)—but no Schoenberg, Berg. Messiaen, Stockhausen, Boulez, Carter. The philistines in our audience excoriated James Levine for playing this music, but it is great music and many of us love it, and people need to realize that if they are interested in attending symphony orchestra concerts, it is incumbent on them to learn something about music, to try to open themselves to new musical experiences that may at first be disconcerting.

Rattle and the Berliners devoted the main part of their concert to Mahler’s large and complex Seventh Symphony—the first movement an impetuous march that transforms, with harp glissandi, into an elevated, transcendent realm with long-spun-out lyrical melody; the middle movements offering ghostly explorations of the night (Nachtmusik), its fears, seductions, beauties, and shocks, plus a relieving scherzo; the finale a grand celebratory march invoking Wagner’s Meistersinger. The different parts of this piece, with their changes in mood, sound, and momentum, came through each with its own individuality. And yet Rattle managed to draw all into an organic whole, everything seeming to follow inevitably from what went before, and to ask for what would follow. I haven’t been so astonished and moved by a Mahler performance here since Levine’s great account of the cosmic, nature saturated—but with plenty of shocks—Third Symphony some ten years ago. Nelsons’ Ninth Symphony, mentioned above, perhaps belongs in this company.

Charles Dutoit

Charles Dutoit

The BSO fall season was brightened up by the always-welcome visit of Charles Dutoit. In late October he led a dramatic, scintillating, scary account of Bartok’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle, with highly effective principals, baritone Matthias Goerne as the murderous Bluebeard and mezzo Ildikó Komlósi as the unfortunate new wife, Judith. Dutoit opened the concert with a fine, idiomatic account of the late Mozart Symphony in E-flat, K. 543 (No. 39). This program worked well. The Mozart established a world of sweeping propulsiveness, then tenderness, and finally buzzing energy, all within classical borders, before the Bartók opened the doors of chaos. On a separate program Dutoit and Yo-yo Ma gave us a moving Elgar Cello Concerto, which Dutoit surrounded with William Walton’s not-so-familiar, but lively and colorful Portsmouth Point Overture, and Holst’s perhaps over-familiar Planets. Nice to have an English evening. In the coming fall season Dutoit will lead the Berlioz Damnation of Faust—not to be missed, I would say.

* * *

In the new year, Nelsons’ work was again up and down, mixed. On his first appearance, in early February, he led a fairly impressive performance of Bach’s great Mass in B-Minor, a summa of Bach’s musical styles and means, his powers as an artist—a summa, perhaps, of the very powers of music itself—all focused in a celebration and exploration of the tenets of the Christian creed, and of the stages of the central Christian ritual, the making of contact with God through the symbolic incorporation of the material manifestations of God, accompanied with prayer and praise. Nelsons showed no remarkable interest in the words and their various resonances of feeling, realized through music, and no remarkable knack for pacing the piece, guiding its flows and ebbs. It was all there, but all on one plane, so to speak. Nelsons took mostly too-fast tempos, but at least the orchestra could play them. As one friend remarked, “The trumpets were heroic.” The soloists, soprano Malin Christensson, mezzo Christine Rice, tenor Benjamin Bruns, and bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, all sang well, but did not seem encouraged to go for the uncanny beauty or passionate utterance this score invites. What made the evening was the magnificent, at times hauntingly lovely, at times turn-on-a-dime virtuosic, choral singing. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus during the year, under various guest leaders, often sounded coarse. But for the Bach, prepared by James Burton, they were wonderful. Burton has been appointed the new permanent leader of the chorus, succeeding the beloved John Oliver. It seems a really good appointment.

Ryan Turner

Ryan Turner

A more thoroughly satisfying concert was Emmanuel Music’s performance of Bach’s epical St. Matthew Passion at Emmanuel Church at the end of March. Artistic Director Ryan Turner did not go for simple grandeur and sonorousness, as some do with this piece, but for well-paced drama and expressiveness, lean (but not too lean) and clear. The relatively small orchestra played beautifully, with some striking solos. The chorus sang as if they really meant their words of praise, prayer, and lamentation. The Boston Children’s Chorus contributed admirably to the occasion, starting with their interruption of the piece’s turbulent opening chorus, singing in counterpoint their transcendent chorale “O Lamm Gottes Unschuldig.” Tenor Charles Blandy held our attention perfectly as the Evangelist, spinning out his story.  Bass Paul Max Tipton was a moving Jesus, beautifully haloed by the orchestra’s strings. The many soloists—Emmanuel old hands and new—reached out to us with beauty and feeling and individual character. One fully entered into the experience of Bach’s “witnesses”—those actively participating in, or those simply present at, the ancient events of Christ’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. And one entered into the experience of the “faithful”—those who over the centuries and now, in Bach’s rendering, contemplate and reflect on the mysterious and moving events. This work, especially when presented so powerfully as at Emmanuel, makes us one with the faithful—provisionally but at least to some extent indelibly, if we do not already number ourselves as such—more deeply if we do.

Nelsons’ mid-February BSO program that centered on Benjamin’s striking and strikingly well-presented opera Dream of the Song, included fairly routine performances of Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique—no sparkle or charm in the Ravel, nothing scary or really delirious in the Berlioz. The slightly later February program with Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee included a perfectly fine rendering of Mozart’s grand, though at times meltingly tender, Piano Concerto in E-flat, K. 482, with soloist Emmanuel Ax—we got nicely shaped long lines of melody from both piano and orchestra, and good balance and interplay between them. Finally on this occasion came a curious and ultimately frustrating account of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Nelsons led an impressive first movement, clear and forceful, with powerful build-ups to the several climaxes. Beethoven’s brilliant and idiosyncratic handling of themes and their development, of counterpoint, of driving rhythms and counter-rhythms, all came to the fore effectively, as did his awe before the idea of a mythic heroic figure. Then the piece flagged. The great Funeral March never achieved the proper intensity. One should feel devastated by this movement, but there was again just the sense of notes going by. The scherzo, with its hunting horns, and the finale, a set of variations, were simply superficial—no sense of the return to life and vitality in the scherzo, after the devastation of the Funeral March—no deeply felt sense of the celebration of music and its variety and powers which the finale variations call for.

Nelsons’ so-so Bruckner Sixth in mid-April was preceded by a quite effective account, with soloist Mitsuko Uchida, of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D-minor, K. 466. Uchida and Nelsons achieved a properly stormy and metaphysically uncertain quality. This was an admirably cooperative endeavor, and made a nice prologue to the Bruckner. This concerto is one place Mozart peers into the abyss. The Bruckner afterwards seemed to climb out of the darkness, with a strong constructive, positive, constantly reaching-forward quality.

Abysmal in the bad sense was the performance the next week, led by Nelsons with soloist Radu Lupu, of Mozart’s disturbing but uncannily beautiful Piano Concerto in C-Minor, K. 491—perhaps the greatest of all piano concertos. Lupu’s playing was tepid and recessive, and was answered in kind by Nelsons and the orchestra—no definition anywhere, no drive in the propulsive, sweeping 3/4 time first movement, no tenderness in the Larghetto, no drama in the finale’s set of variations, no proper sense of dissolution—the dissolution of the human condition itself—in the pronounced chromaticism that runs throughout the piece. All went by as a soft blur. There followed an unsatisfactory rendition of Mozart’s great Requiem—no sense of the power of the words, no sense of loss or mourning, no sense of fear at the prospect of the Last Judgment—just notes going by, again.

A week later, still in April, Nelsons’ impressive performance of the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony was preceded by an affectless Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Mutter lacked her usual fire and intensity (albeit a cold fire), and the orchestra held back. If this piece is not thrilling and alternately lyrical and tender in a haunting way, it is not really there. Such was the case here. But the orchestra also played, very nicely, Toru Takemitsu’s Nostalghia for strings, an atmospheric and heartfelt tribute and memorial for the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Stalker…). Before turning to the Shostakovich Symphony, one was reminded of what great spiritual art could be achieved going against the current of the Soviet regime, as Tarkovsky did—albeit at great cost.

Nelsons ended the BSO season in early May with another concert of mixed quality. First, there was a suitably vivid performance of selections from Shostakovich’s incidental music for director Grigori Kozintsev’s stage production of King Lear (music also used in Kozintsev’s powerful film of the play). There followed a fine performance, with soloist Leif Ove Andsnes, of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4, with its rhythmically weird opening theme and overall feel of fragmentariness and emotional restraint—Rachmaninoff as Bartok, rather. The concert, and thus the season, ended, though, with an unsatisfactory performance of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (one of James Levine’s triumphs here). Mahler marks the first movement nicht eilen (Don’t hurry), but Nelsons hurried, blurring over the flexibility and charms of the music—more of just notes going by. The sublime slow movement seemed present on this occasion just so its climax, which should open the gates of heaven, could serve as background music for a long, slow grand entrance across stage by soprano Kristine Opolais, who proceeded to sing an unidiomatic rendering of the final movement’s child’s vision of paradise. It just sounded like a middle-aged diva singing a concert aria, and without good coaching in German diction. And Opolais can be girlish, that’s not the issue—more guidance was needed from the conductor, I would suggest—not from the podium in concert, but in preparation beforehand.

Nelsons has achieved some great performances with the BSO, and he shows much potential. I think everyone wishes him well. But one often feels that he has needed to become more inward with the music he is conducting, to have grasped it more fully as a work of art with its special characteristics and requirements for expressiveness and taste, before having undertaken to conduct it This is not to be accomplished by score study with a view toward how to execute what is written there. Most of music is not in the score. A musician’s deepening of himself (or herself) would seem to require, in the main, soul searching with regard to a given piece or composer; perhaps conversation with mentors and esteemed colleagues; perhaps the giving of attention to various performances (even recordings) to see possibilities and become aware of pitfalls; perhaps conversation with philosophers, scholars, even critics—this was Furtwängler’s method. Just speculating.

Guest-conducted BSO performances in the new year had their ups and downs as well. As a friend remarked, thinking both of Nelsons and of the guests, “There seem to be a lot of half-good concerts this year.”

In mid-January Bramwell Tovey led lively performances with, virtuoso organist Cameron Carpenter, of Samuel Barber’s exuberant Toccata Festiva (1960)—whch has its lyrical moments—and Terry Riley’s At the Royal Majestic, written for Carpenter—a summa of organ techniques and sounds, evoking Bach here, 20th-century theater organ there—brilliant, coruscating. As an encore Carpenter played the manic gigue from Bach’s G-major French Suite entirely with the organ’s foot pedals—all were amazed. Then the concert sank, as after intermission came an uninspired run-through of Elgar’s Enigma Variations—never touching, never affecting, never intellectually stimulating, making one sit up and take notice.

A week later Juanjo Mena led an all right performance of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony; a fine account of Mieczysław Weinberg’s Violin Concerto (1959), with always enthralling soloist Gidon Kremer—the piece another interesting and moving instance of art winning its way in face of the Soviet regime and culture; but finally a listless run-through of the (usually) stirring Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. Mena stayed around for a week to replace ailing Christoph von Dohnányi, leading English composer Julian Anderson’s Incantesimi, commissioned in part by the BSO—but the performance did not much to clarify the piece’s long lines “orbiting” one another, as the composer describes it; then an all right but nothing-special rendering of the Schumann Piano Concerto, with soloist/composer Jean Frédéric Neuberger; and finally another listless run-through, this time of Schubert’s Great C-Major Symphony. The BSO should really bring us more interesting and effective guest conductors than Bramwell Tovey and Juanjo Mena.

Sakari Markus Oramo OBE
HarrisonParrott

To end on a positive note, I am happy to say that in mid-March Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo led one of the best concerts of the year: a haunting Sibelius Third Symphony, with Sibelius’s usual primal wilderness atmosphere, though also with some sunshine, and vivid folk elements—all fully realized. And then a suitably splashy and robust account of Busoni’s huge Piano Concerto, with agile soloist Kirill Gerstein, and men of the Tanglewood Festival chorus ably singing lines (in German) from Danish author Adam Oehlenschläger’s Goethe-influenced Aladdin, lines reaching for transcendent realms, invoking more than once the name of Allah. A week later beloved BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink, in exceptionally good form, led a poised and witty account of Haydn’s highly bizarre Symphony no. 60, “Il distratto (loosely, the nut case); Debussy’s Nocturnes, with lovely wordless singing from the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and much soft, subtle orchestral playing; and finally a very satisfying, primal account of Beethoven’s  Seventh Symphony, full of grandeur, rhythmically strong (living up to Wagner’s designation of the piece as “the apotheosis of the dance”), brilliantly played by the horns and all the rest of the orchestra, everything well shaped by Haitink from beginning to end. Let’s look forward.

Charles Warren

About Charles Warren

Charles Warren studied literature and music formally and now teaches film history and analysis at Boston University and in the Harvard Extension School. He is the author of “T.S. Eliot on Shakespeare,” and edited and contributed to the volumes “Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film” and “Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Hail Mary:’ Women and the Sacred in Film.”

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