LENOX — Leonard Bernstein spoke ardently and tirelessly against war and for love and peace. He had surprising company in the plea Saturday night at Tanglewood.
In what at first seemed like a programming mismatch, the Boston Symphony Orchestra followed Bernstein's "Halil," a flute concerto, with Haydn's "Lord Nelson" Mass. "Halil" is a threnody for an Israeli soldier, Yadin Tenenbaum, killed in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. It is dedicated "To the Spirit of Yadin and his Fallen Brothers."
The "Nelson" mass (formally, Missa in angustiis, or Mass in constricted [times]), on the other hand, was composed when Vienna was under attack in the Napoleonic wars and is full of martial flourishes. Legend has it that the work celebrates Lord Nelson's defeat of the French fleet. The closing Dona nobis becomes a plea for peace in heaven and on earth.
Both works, superbly performed by the BSO under Herbert Blomstedt, were a tribute to Bernstein on his centenary —- "Halil" because he composed it and led the first BSO performance, in 1981; the Haydn mass because Bernstein had led the last previous Tanglewood performance, in 1977. There were, in fact, a few years back then when the Haydn masses — splendid works — found favor at Tanglewood. Tastes change. A lot of the Shed emptied Saturday for the mass, the evening's finale.
Principal flutist Elizabeth Rowe eloquently evoked Yadin's spirit as the soloist in "Halil" (the name means flute in Hebrew). In music that ranges from atonal anger to mournful song, the 17-minute "nocturne" often pits the flute against percussion, sometimes cataclysmic, sometimes only a background rustle of timpani. The BSO deployed six percussionists for the task. (Was John Williams thinking of this music when he wrote the soundtrack for "Schindler's List"?)
The "Nelson" mass is full of wonderful, sometimes pictorial moments, such as the soprano and bass soloists joining in a plea for mercy while, in the background, the chorus fervently enlarges upon the plea. The 82-strong Tanglewood Festival chorus, prepared by director James Burton, sang with beauty and unforced strength throughout, sounding perhaps more homogeneous than in the past.
Soprano Hannah Morrison, mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Kulman, tenor Nicholas Phan and baritone Michael Nagy sang capably as the solo quartet, Morrison's clarion soprano tending to turn shrill in the higher reaches. The program opened with a spirited account of Mozart's Symphony No. 34, which offered martial touches of its own.
Friday's all-Mozart program, also led by Blomstedt, was a modest affair, on the short side in duration. Returning from last week's all-Mozart recital with violinist Pamela Frank, pianist Emanuel Ax played the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, one of Mozart's happiest, with genial spirits. Blomstedt closed with the "Jupiter" Symphony (No. 41), keeping a steady hand on tempos and rhythms and slightly underplaying the symphony's martial brilliance. In both concerts, he used a reduced orchestra and divided the violin sections in the 18th-century seating style.
As the speaker in the Talks and Walks series last week, the 91-year-old Blomstedt was asked how he kept himself healthy and active.
It has nothing to do with nicotine or alcohol, he told the audience, made up mostly of seniors. Rather, he keeps busy at what he loves - conducting. The Swedish conductor (actually born in nearby Springfield) surely put his credo to work into practice in his pair of concerts.
For the soloist, Sibelius' Violin Concerto is probably the most technically difficult of all the great concertos for violin. For the listener, it is the saddest and loneliest, imbued with the solitude of Finland's north woods.
As soloist with the BSO under Thomas Ades on Sunday, the adventurous Christian Tetzlaff mastered the technical hurdles as if they were no challenge. Interpretively, he went against the grain, avoiding any emotional overlay and going for purity of line and phrase.
This was both gain and loss. It was good to hear what lies behind those sometimes questing, sometimes tortured lines. Yet questing and torture seem inherent in the music, if only by tradition. There seemed a distance between music and listener.
Still, this was a performance with power and integrity, powerfully supported by the BSO under its artistic partner. The English Ades' title is a way of saying he has been with the BSO two years as composer, conductor and pianist, and has excelled in all fields. He again demonstrated in his interpretive vision and leadership on the hot, humid Sunday afternoon.
As composer, Ades conducted his own suite from his satirical opera "Powder Her Face." With squalling brass, groaning saxes, Jazz Age stuff and other rude noises, the rambunctious opera and suite tell the story of the naughty Duchess of Argyll, who is still trying to seduce men at 78. At 25 minutes, the raucous story-telling was good fun but went on a little long.
The concert ended with Sibelius' Symphony No. 5. When final triumph emerged from all the tremolo strings, long buildups and calls from afar, you knew: you had heard the BSO in full sonic glory.