Tanglewood Conductor's absence leaves void


LENOX -- Like your favorite baseball team, the Boston Symphony Orchestra went into action with a patched-together lineup.

The chief absentee, of course, was Andris Nelsons. Instead of conducting the Verdi Requiem Saturday night at Tanglewood in his debut as BSO director-designate, he was at home in Germany, recuperating from a concussion.

Into the void, bravely on a few days notice, rushed Carlo Montanaro, little known in the United States but with operatic experience in Europe and a post in Warsaw. He got the BSO, Tanglewood Festival Chorus and four soloists through the piece. But that's about the best that can be said about the dispirited evening.

Wearing an old-fashioned black frock coat amid the musicians' summer whites, Mon-tanaro came with his own ideas, inclining toward opera, about the Requiem. They might have worked if a) he had had more rehearsal time or b) he hadn't tried so hard to impose the concept on the chorus and

These musicians know the music and one another well enough to give a conductor whatever he wants if they're allowed a little freedom. As it was, the performance was drained of spontaneity.

At best, the orchestral and choral work followed the notes but not the grandeur of Verdi's vision. At other times, the performance was ragged and unbalanced. The terror of the massive, recurring "Dies irae" came at you like a wall of sound rather than Judgment Day.

The performance, following Act III of Wagner's "Walkure" a week before, rounded out Tanglewood's commemoration of the Verdi-Wagner bicentennial. Wagner's gods are not Verdi's gods. In fact, Verdi, an agnostic if not outright atheist, wasn't specifically appeasing a Christian God. The Requiem was written to commemorate the death of the Italian writer and patriot Alessandro Manzoni.

Opera and church are intertwined in Verdi's setting of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, so a measure of operatic style is not out of place in performance. Montanaro brought a high degree of theatrical excitability and volatility to the lines, with many sudden effects, such as clipped or crunching accents by the chorus.

The sense of things not meshing extended to the soloists. All four sang well, but with different styles that didn't add up to an ensemble.

Most interest attached naturally to soprano Kristine Opolais, Nelsons' wife, who felt confident enough of his recovery to make the trip without him. She used her creamy voice to good effect, though with some scooping in her long "Libera me" solo.

Mezzo-soprano Lioba Braun sang with quiet but burning intensity; tenor Dmytro Popov sounded like a good Radames in "Aida," and bass-baritone Eric Owens (a late substitute for Ferruccio Furlanetto) lent solidity and power.

Nelsons wasn't the only conductor who canceled for the weekend. Christoph Eschen-bach, who was to have taken the Friday and Sunday concerts, dropped out because of an ear infection.

Ludovic Morlot, who had led the BSO in Boston and on tour in 2011-12, was summoned back to take yesterday's concert. Now the director of the Seattle Symphony, he presided over a surely, even excitingly paced and played program of Dvorak and Prokofiev, with the indefatigable Garrick Ohl-sson as soloist in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3.

Morlot and the BSO made Dvorak's "Carnival" Overture as fiery and cheerful as the title suggests. The well-worn "New World" Symphony showed it has plenty of life left in it yet. As Morlot brought out inner shadings, the familiar largo movement emerged as music of considerable intricacy as well as nostalgia. The finale was a great ride.

Ohlsson made the Prokofiev concerto sound easy, which it isn't. Irony and lyricism existed side by side. Modern or romantic? Both, when it's played with depth like this.

An air of caution hung over Friday's all-Mozart program under Edo de Waart's direction.

The revamped program paired Mozart's last piano concerto and symphony, two of his most expansive works. The "Jupiter" Symphony's broad sweep and martial flourishes seemed blunted in the BSO's careful navigation.

It was left to Ohlsson, who substituted for Eschenbach as soloist and played the Con-certo No. 27 instead of the scheduled No. 12, to break out of the mold. His playing was supple and subtle, almost soft-focus, in keeping with Mozart's gentle spirits.

As an overture, soprano Christine Schafer joined Ohl-sson and the orchestra in the concert scene "Ch'io mi scordi di te?" ("You want me to forget you?"). Regret rather than pathos seemed to color the rejected lover's lament.


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