Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 7, 2018

REVIEW: Tanglewood, Bernstein/Sibelius/Borodin/Wieniawski/Prokofiev

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
August 4-5, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

Guest conductors can bring a special excitement to Tanglewood, especially when they’re accompanied by world-class vocal and instrumental soloists. All this and a major BSO and Tanglewood conducting debut made for two memorable concerts over the past weekend.

On Saturday evening genial British-born maestro Bramwell Tovey opened his program with the next installment of this season’s “Bernstein Centennial Summer,” a stirring rendition of that composer’s 1977 “Songfest,” a 40-minute “cycle of American poems for six singers and orchestra.” While these twelve colorfully orchestrated settings of diverse writers were brilliantly executed by all the musicians, soprano Nadine Sierra’s lively “A Julia de Burgos” (by herself), bass-baritone Eric Owens’s magisterial “To What You Said” (Walt Whitman), and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor’s touching “Sonnet: What lips my lips have kissed…” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) were especially memorable.

A majestic performance of the second symphony by Sibelius ended the program on a note of epic grandeur. Written in 1901, the symphony can be heard as a Finlandia-like protest against contemporary Russian domination of Finland. Its dramatic arc was vividly conjured by Tovey and the BSO, from the pastoral opening “Allegretto” movement, to the turbulent “Tempo Andante, ma rubato” and the nimble “Vivacissimo,” to the triumphant “Finale: Allegro moderato.”  

Dima Slobodeniouk
On Sunday afternoon rising young Russian-born maestro Dima Slobodeniouk made an impressive BSO and Tanglewood debut with soloist Joshua Bell in a sweeping presentation of Wieniawski’s 1862 second violin concerto. Bell brought his trademark warmth to the opening “Allegro moderato,” tenderness to the central “Romance,” and exuberance to the closing “Allegro con fuoco.” Slobodeniouk’s communicative baton and graceful gestures elicited playing of deep emotion and finesse from the BSO.

An exciting version of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor” opened the program, which ended with a riveting account of Prokofiev’s 1945 fifth symphony. Slobodeniouk and the orchestra revealed new insights into this most familiar of the composer’s seven symphonies, from a dark undercurrent in the opening “Andante,” to a touch of sarcasm in the “Allegro moderato,” a sense of mystery in the “Adagio,” and a hint of protest in the closing “Allegro giocoso.” This is clearly a conductor to watch.