TMCO concert at Ozawa Hall shows off the horn as hero

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LENOX >> Attentive listeners at Sunday's Tanglewood concert heard discreet but haunting horn solos emerge from the orchestral fabric in Strauss' "Four Last Songs."

By accident or design, the horn went on to a starring role in the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra's concert Monday night. Each of three works showcased the instrument in a solo or multiple setting.

Most spectacularly, Richard Sebring, the Boston Symphony's associate principal hornist, made his horn do everything but sing and dance in Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 1, a work of youthful exuberance. Strauss' father was a leading horn player in his day, and young or old, the son never forgot.

But the evening's overriding feat was Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony rolling on like a mighty tide under the direction of BSO assistant conductor Ken-David Masur. In this performance, the symphony was truly shocking, as it must be if it is to strike us as it struck Beethoven's contemporaries in all its monumentality.

Masur substituted for the veteran Christoph von Dohnányi, who had to cancel because of complications from cataract surgery. Masur thus returned to the podium he had occupied in 2011 and 2012 as a TMC conducting fellow. He followed this year's successors, Christian Reif of Germany and Nuno Coelho of Portugal, to the podium.

The program overall scored high on the excellence meter.

Reif led a sonically rich, duly dramatic account of the Dawn and Rhine Journey music from Wagner's "Götterdämmerung." TMC fellow David Raschella confidently sounded Siegfried's horn calls from far and near.

Strauss composed the first of his three horn concertos only six years after Wagner completed his "Ring" Cycle, and it can sometimes seem Siegfried has been reborn in the solo horn's fanfares, hunting calls and heroics. It makes a great showpiece, and Sebring didn't stint. Faithfully accompanied by the orchestra under Coelho, he combined easy virtuosity and buttery smoothness of tone with a commanding presence.

Heroics abounded in the "Eroica" — in Beethoven's Bonaparte-inspired symphony, of course, but also in the performance under Masur (yes, he is the son of Kurt Masur). He had a sure sense of tension and release, of making each note and phrase tell a story.

He also expanded the wind and brass sections. Beethoven's then-unprecedented three horns became four, belting out their calls with greater urgency. In Ozawa Hall, the overall sound, richly blended, was enough to rock you back in your seat.

The first movement, with its slashing dissonances, generated terrific momentum. The Funeral March built to a shattering climax before subsiding into its final mutterings. The final movements rushed along with boiling energy.

Outside the hall, the predicted thunderstorm never happened. The action was all on the stage.


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