Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
August 23, 2014
by Michael J. Moran
The concluding Tanglewood weekend featured one of the splashiest programs of the entire 2014 season. It opened with Berlioz’ “Roman Carnival” Overture, closed with all three symphonic poems in Respighi’s Roman Trilogy, and even Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which preceded intermission, was connected to Rome by Paganini’s several brief periods of residence in the Eternal City.
Frequent Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) guest conductor Charles Dutoit got the program off to a lively start with an exuberant account of the tuneful Overture. Steeped in the French tradition, the orchestra and their leader indulged this colorful score’s every opportunity for instrumental display, but always with elegance and taste.
Russian-born pianist Kirill Gerstein then took the stage to deliver a knockout performance of the Rhapsody. Gerstein’s youthful experience as a jazz pianist may have inspired his freer than usual approach to the notes, but it nicely reflected both Paganini’s style of virtuosic showmanship as a violinist and Rachmaninoff’s as a pianist. Dutoit and the BSO were in total rapport with their soloist, from the music’s witty quotations of the “Dies Irae” plainchant to the soaring lyricism of the famous eighteenth variation.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a rare and spectacular rendition of Respighi’s iconic cycle of tributes to the city he loved. Dutoit programmed the individual pieces not in their order of composition but for maximum dramatic impact: first, the garish but glitzy Roman Festivals; next, the haunting and poetic Fountains of Rome; and, finally, the towering, majestic Pines of Rome.
Detoit led his musicians almost without pause, remaining onstage until the end, thus emphasizing their unity of spirit and sound. Dutoit has an instinctive feeling for this flashy repertoire, and the huge orchestra -- including multiple keyboards, an enlarged brass choir downstage right, and an offstage trumpet -- expressed its varied colors with unfailing technical command and surprising emotional depth.
The imaginative and intelligent programming by maestro Dutoit of this and the next afternoon’s season-ending Beethoven program (why aren’t the kindred Choral Fantasy and Ninth Symphony paired more often?) only enhances the joy of hearing music in world-class performances at this uniquely appealing venue.