Wednesday July 18, 2012

LENOX -- Could this have been the same orchestra?

The Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra returned to its home and form Monday night, sounding terrific two nights after sounding wan to the point of inaudibility at the Tanglewood anniversary gala.

There was a difference, of course. At the gala, the student ensemble was playing back-up in the Shed to stars -- Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma and Anne-Sophie Mutter -- who held the spotlight, both literally andfiguratively. In Ozawa Hall, the orchestra could be itself and blow the roof off in that grand old piece of fustian, Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

What's the point?

The point is that the gala filled the grounds with nearly 17,000 listeners and earned $1.42 million for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In Ozawa Hall, a few hundred music lovers came to hear a brilliant young orchestra and conductor deliver true musical excitement.

Are values out of kilter here? Best not to ask. That $1.42 million helps to sustain the BSO's summer academy and the music-making it
produces.

The program sketched the romantic movement from Schubert to Strauss. Student conductors Vlad Agachi and Alexandre Bloch opened with Brahms' "Tragic" Overture and Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. For the climactic "Zarathustra," Brazilian-born Marcelo Lehninger, the BSO's assistant conductor, took command.

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Strauss' tone poem, based loosely on Nietzsche's philosophical work, opens with a huge C Major sunrise that resounds through heaven and earth.


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After that, everything seems anticlimactic; philosophical rumbling and posturing rule. Trying to follow the sequence of events -- "On the Great Longing," "On Science," etc. -- is like reading a scorecard. Strauss said it all better elsewhere.

The piece, however, seems made to order for a young virtuoso orchestra that wants to fill the hall with sometimes opulent, sometimes swollen sounds. The TMC string tone was focused but rich in the Straussian way (hints of "Rosenkavalier" here). The brasses and winds -- and don't forget the thundering organ and percussion -- delivered swirls and blazes of color. Concertmaster Julia Noone waltzed with a charming country lilt as the soloist in the "Dance Song" sequence.

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"Zarathustra" also calls for a virtuoso conductor, and the energetic Lehninger was the man, eliciting the fired-up playing from the orchestra. "Zarathustra" is one thing, Mozart another. Joined by Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, Lehninger will be tested in other repertoire when he makes his Tanglewood debut with the BSO on
July 27.