Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 30, 2019

REVIEW: Tanglewood, Shostakovich/Mozart/Ravel

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 26, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Before spending the rest of the weekend with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra for a complete performance of Wagner’s “Die Walkure” spread over three concerts, Music Director Andris Nelsons led the BSO on a gorgeous Berkshire Friday evening in a varied program of little heard music by three other composers. 

It opened with Shostakovich’s second symphony, “To October,” commissioned by the Soviet government in 1927 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the “October Revolution.” Reflecting the state’s openness under Lenin to experimentation in the arts, the first of the twenty-minute piece’s two movements begins, in Harlow Robinson’s words, with “a riot of conflicting rhythmic patterns, building to a cacophonic din.” The second movement features a chorus singing proletarian verses by Alexander Bezymensky and shouting “October, Commune, Lenin” at the end. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, prepared by their conductor, James Burton, were spirited and rousing, with colorful backing from Nelsons and the BSO. 

Paul Lewis
English pianist Paul Lewis, a frequent guest at Tanglewood since his BSO debut in 2012, next played Mozart’s twelfth piano concerto. Written in 1782, its major key signature (A) and modest orchestration make it a sunnier piece than many of the composer’s later and better-known concertos. But he intended it as a vehicle for his own virtuosic playing, and Lewis met the technical challenges of its three movements handily, while conveying its emotional content through delicate phrasing and clear articulation. Nelsons and the BSO were warm accompanists.
The chorus returned after intermission to join the orchestra and conductor in a brilliant account of Ravel’s complete 1912 ballet “Daphnis and Chloe.” The ballet is rarely danced, and its vivid full score is less often presented in concert than the second orchestral suite Ravel derived from it. The chorus’s wordless vocals in many of the ballet’s twelve sections enhance the already lush orchestration to diaphanous effect.

Nelsons carefully balanced the enlarged orchestra with the voices so that even the softest passages, some for chorus alone, were fully audible in the vast Music Shed. The result was an exhilarating triumph for all the musicians, with special kudos to principal flutist Elizabeth Rowe for her distinguished solo work.