July 31, 2011
by Michael J. Moran
Fresh off an all-Brahms program the night before, Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and also a distinguished pianist, returned to the Music Shed podium on a gorgeous Tanglewood afternoon to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in another concert drawn from his own Germanic heritage.
Rising star Alisa Weilerstein was the soloist in Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1 in C, such a staple of the cello repertoire that it's hard to imagine it was unknown since Haydn's lifetime until 1961. Weilerstein played with a full, rich tone that recalled another champion of this concerto, Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom she once briefly studied. But she and the reduced BSO forces which accompanied her gave Haydn an appropriately light feeling, especially in the fleet and playful finale. Not yet 30, this charismatic young cellist should have a bright musical future.
Following intermission Maestro Eschenbach led the full orchestra in an incandescent performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D. That he conducted this complex piece without a score suggested that he felt a deep connection to the music, which was evident from the hushed opening notes of the first movement to the triumphant close of the finale almost an hour later.
Highlights included the slightly but infectiously heavy-footed tempo of the second movement, an Austrian peasant dance in landler rhythm, which Mahler marked to be played "not too fast," and the solo turns by drum, bass, and bassoon players in the haunting third movement, a funeral march based on the children's tune "Frere Jacques."
With his baton Eschenbach achieved a consistently transparent balance throughout the symphony, so that even quiet instruments like the triangle and the harp could always be heard no matter how loud the music around them. It was remarkable how often Mahler's orchestration had the clear texture of chamber music in this performance, enhanced by the Shed's warm and resonant acoustic.
BSO percussionist Frank Epstein, who is retiring after 43 years with the orchestra (and who did yeoman's work with his cymbals in the Mahler) was honored with a standing ovation at the concert's end.