Two discoveries in one at Tanglewood
The symphony is nearly an hour long, and maybe it took Tanglewood's "Schubert's Summer Journey" chamber and recital series to bring it back. Yet it is a masterpiece, composed, like many of Schubert's greatest works, near the end of his life.
Or maybe Shani, making his BSO debut, brought it back. He certainly brought a lot else to the podium, beginning with seating the orchestra in classical style, with cellos and basses to his left for balance. He also conducted the huge Schubert symphony from memory, and probably with short rehearsal.
With engagements with major European orchestras already in his pocket, things would only seem likely to get bigger and better for this impressive — no, established — talent. On the bright, sunny afternoon, he signaled his control of the orchestra right away with a fizzy charge through Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" Overture.
Adding to the overall fizz, Joshua Bell, the last of three very different violin soloists to appear in the weekend's three concerts, played the Mendelssohn concerto. To say he was in top form is to say there's not much closer to the top a violinist can get. Sheer beauty of tone, coupled with technical wizardry and romantic fervors, made the over-played work irresistible all over again. The cadenza, concocted not by Mendelssohn but by other hands, was brilliant in its mix of show and substance
But about Schubert. His music, even the once-ubiquitous "Unfinished" Symphony, has been generally missing from the BSO's Tanglewood repertoire for many years: a significant gap.
The Ninth, his last symphony, is one of his works that Robert Schumann deemed of "heavenly length." So why are orchestras — at least the BSO — afraid of it? From the opening horn solo, seemingly from afar, to the jubilant conclusion, the BSO ranged gorgeously through its luxurious sounds and wide spectrum of emotions.
Apart from some fussy details in the opening movement, the performance was thoughtfully conceived and solidly played. The long first movement held tightly together; the andante's eruption of tragedy subsided into regret and consolation. The scherzo rolled with a compelling rhythm; the finale featured the allusion to Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, Schubert's god.
In all, a memorable afternoon.
The last time the Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider appeared at Tanglewood was in 2011, when he played Sibelius' Violin Concerto with profound loneliness and tenderness. He returned Saturday night in the more serene Brahms concerto. It was another wondrous occasion.
The Brahms concerto has its virtuoso elements, especially in the gypsy finale, but until that finale the piece breathes an Olympian air. Unlike Brahms' Double Concerto, rather listlessly played the night before by violinist Gil Shaham and cellist Alisa Weilerstein, the Violin Concerto requires the soloist to subdue technique and breathe a purer air. Znaider had the necessary brilliance but coupled it with abundant reflectiveness. He received thorough support from the BSO under Juanjo Mena.
Mena, the chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic of Manchester, opened with English composer Julian Anderson's "Incantesimi," a BSO co-commission. The 10-minute piece, built on the idea of five musical figures circling like the planets in the solar system, features an English horn solo (elegantly played by Robert Sheena) weaving in and out of the textures, perhaps like an asteroid. A spectral mix of sounds leads to a massive climax, followed by fadeout.
Mena concluded with an exhilarating performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 by a fired-up BSO. There's nothing new to be said about this well-worn concert standby, but Mena came up with little surprises of phrases and connection, all bubbling up from inside the music's rhythmically charged flow. The performance was a blast of sheer energy. The horns sounded glorious in their prominent parts.
Another memorable concert. Both soloists played Bach as encores.
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