Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 17, 2013

Britten and Shostakovich

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 15, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

No more convincing proof could be required for the high quality of training offered at Tanglewood than this concert, in which an orchestra of emerging professional musicians, including two conductors, who have worked together for only a few weeks performed several rare and demanding works with consummate technical and interpretive skill.    

Members of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra played two pieces by Britten in celebration of his centennial year and one by Shostakovich. The composers were born and died within a few years of each other, and their music shared what Hugh MacDonald, writing about Britten in the program book, calls ”a powerful message, usually concerning the exploitation and vulnerability of weaker souls.” Their mutual admiration was shared by such great musicians as cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom both composers wrote several pieces.

Ciaran McAuley
Irish conductor Ciaran McAuley opened the concert leading the orchestra in the “Pas de Six” from Britten’s 1957 ballet “Prince of the Pagodas.” McAuley’s minimal but precise gestures drew a fiery account of the virtuosic music, which featured an inventive set of variations that made particularly fierce demands on the sterling brass players.

Alexadre Bloch
French conductor Alexandre Bloch took the helm for Britten’s song cycle for soprano and string orchestra “Les Illuminations” to poems by Arthur Rimbaud. Singing in French, TMC fellow Laura Strickling brought ravishing tone to these brilliantly varied pieces, and Bloch’s full-body technique elicited a colorful and well-balanced account from the orchestra.

Stefan Asbury
A dazzling performance of Shostakovich’s eleventh symphony, “The Year 1905,” followed intermission under British-born conductor and longtime TMC faculty member Stefan Asbury. Dedicated to the victims of an abortive Russian Revolution, the symphony places huge demands on all sections of the orchestra, which were unfailingly met with professional rigor and youthful brio by the players.  Asbury’s conducting style was more animated than McAuley’s and less flashy than Bloch’s, but the musicians were equally responsive to his leadership.

The acoustics of Ozawa Hall allowed an impressive level of detail to be heard in all three pieces, and the large audience applauded enthusiastically after each one.