LENOX -- The sun shone, the multitudes assembled and humanity was united in universal joy.
In other words, the Boston Symphony Orchestra closed its Tanglewood season yesterday with the annual ritual of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The philosophical ideal will never be realized, of course. But with a large audience (at a guess, 12,000) in attendance in perfect late-summer weather, the ideal of Beethoven's music was superbly embraced by the BSO, Tanglewood Festival Chorus and four soloists under conductor Bernard Haitink.
There's nothing new to be said about the Ninth at this late date. The point is to say well what there is to be said, and the burnished playing, with myriad shadings and detail, and the lusty singing, with unusual clarity for a chorus of 130, carried terrific impact. The beauty, depth and transparency of the sound alone made this performance special.
Haitink, who has a long record of distinguished BSO performances, took an unhurried, steady approach, allowing the music to accumulate weight, mystery, majesty and -- ultimately -- joy over the span of an hour-plus. The grinding first movement generated shattering force. The timpani-driven second movement burned with controlled fury; the third attained unearthly serenity; the fourth made the final leap into Elysium.
In the "Ode to Joy," bass-baritone John Relyea dominated the otherwise capable corps of soloists -- who also included soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford and tenor Joseph Kaiser -- with his commanding voice and manner. His opening summons to a new song and a new vision of humanity seemed to encapsulate the spirit of the afternoon.
We switch now to a younger conductor and another Beethoven symphony.
In a talk to Tanglewood patrons last Thursday, BSO assistant conductor Andris Poga said that at Tanglewood, he had, for the first time, to prepare a full-length concert in two hurry-up rehearsals.
The challenge showed in a couple of ways when he made his Tanglewood debut Friday night. He steered a cautious course, with slow tempos, through the wit of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony. In Beethoven's Seventh, he appeared to let the BSO's long tradition with the symphony be his guide.
Like BSO music director-designate Andris Nelsons, Poga, 32, is Latvian. He said he had known Nelsons, 34, as a fellow trumpet student in Riga, but mentioned no further connection.
In both symphonies, Poga tried to heighten internal details here and there, bringing an extra jolt of energy to Beethoven's roiling third movement. The playing by a reduced orchestra was not the BSO's cleanest, but the experiments suggested a conductor on the rise.
In a neat programming twist, Prokofiev's 1918 "Classical" was paired with another Russian composer's response to the excesses of romanticism, Stravinsky's 1924 Concerto for Piano and Winds. The piano faced off against a large bank of winds supplemented by three double basses.
Pianist Peter Serkin, who had played this finger-twister at Tanglewood three times before, led Poga and the BSO on an intriguing chase through thickets of syncopations, dry sonorities, poker-faced wit and funereal sobriety.