Tanglewood: A happy, sad adieu


LENOX -- It's a cliche; but true: By the end of the season, any good-sized city would be proud to claim the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra as its own. Then the orchestra disbands, never to unite again.

As it does every year, the student aggregation's season finale, played yesterday afternoon in the Tanglewood Shed, struck the chord of auld lang syne. Charles Dutoit led richly detailed and colored performances of three Russian works from the years 1909-10, with Nicolai Lugansky as a commanding piano soloist. The program, fittingly, was the annual Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert.

Against the last-gasp romanticism of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, two early Stravinsky works, "Scherzo fantastique" and the complete "Firebird" ballet, limned the stirrings of 20th-century

"Scherzo fantastique" sounds like "Firebird" lite, and together with the lengthy concerto, the complete "Firebird," with its dead spots for concert use, made a long program. Brilliant playing redeemed the length.

Beginning Tanglewood's final round of orchestral concerts, Dutoit took infinite time and care with the Stravinsky pieces. From the mysterious rustles of the opening garden scene to the diabolic racket of Kashchei's people, the "Firebird" showed its origins in dance but went beyond dance in its fluid rhythms.

Lugansky, who is Russian, played Rachmaninoff's daunting cascades of notes with fearless intensity and assurance. If the solo part was a bit on the dispassionate side, the orchestra made up for it with tempestuous melody and sentiment. A season that began well with Hindemith and Bruckner ended triumphantly with the Russians.

TMC vocal students and their pianist partners bid their adieu Saturday afternoon with a "Sonnet Project" directed by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. It was her third annual project calling on pairs of students to first recite poems and then perform songs based on them.

Five composers, ranging from Britten and Schubert to living figures, were represented by two sonnet settings each. The idea was to focus on the mating of words and music by withholding printed texts from the audience until after the program. Despite heartfelt performances, the format tended to make the word-music connection elusive.

Friday night's Boston Symphony Orchestra concert could have been titled "in search of Beethoven and Prokofiev on a chilly night." Temperatures in the damp mid-50s made intonation iffy and muffled the BSO sound.

The program was a heroic one, pairing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") with Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky" cantata. Even the normally poised Emanuel Ax, as soloist in the concerto, seemed uncomfortable at times. His overall conception was on a noble scale, but the broad sweeps and passages of glistening poetry would sometimes be followed by others in a flurry.

Stephane Deneve, completing his three-concert tour of duty on the podium, seemed a natural for "Nevsky" after the vivid panoramas he created with his Tchaikovsky with the BSO and Berlioz with the music center orchestra.

The BSO played faithfully in Prokofiev's adaptation of his score for the iconic film. The titanic battle on the ice unfolded without the help of movie images. But it was left to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus to deliver the full patriotic fervors. Mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina sang the lament for the dead with deep, vibrato-laden Russian tones.


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