Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 28, 2022

REVIEW: Boston Symphony Orchestra, "Shostakovich/Dvorak/Borodin"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
August 26, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

On the calm evening of an adventurous weather day in the Berkshires, BSO Assistant Conductor Anna Rakitina brought an equally adventurous program to the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood that reflected both her Ukrainian-Russian roots and her canny programming skills. 

After getting listeners in the palm of her hand with one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s catchiest, most ingratiating creations, the “Waltz No. 2 from Suite for Variety Orchestra,” played with jazzy flair by a swinging BSO, Rakitina welcomed to the stage charismatic (and frequent Tanglewood guest) violinist Gil Shaham for Antonin Dvorak’s 1879 violin concerto. While overshadowed by the contemporaneous Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, all three movements of Dvorak’s concerto display his endless melodic invention, the spirit of Czech folk music, and fierce technical challenges, which Shaham rendered with elegance, warmth, and exhilarating proficiency, backed luxuriously by conductor and orchestra.   

Gil Shaham & Anna Rakitina
But the heart of this program was, astonishingly, the BSO’s first-ever performance of Shostakovich’s1929 third symphony, “The First of May.” Written at age 23 as an experiment in which “not a single theme would be repeated,” this kaleidoscopic single-movement half-hour score in four continuous sections echoed the turmoil and excitement of early Soviet culture. Careening between lush post-romanticism and hyperactive, often satirical dissonance, the symphony’s brash energy was absorbingly captured by Rakitina and the BSO, especially the taxing demands on the brass and percussion sections, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, who sang-shouted Semyon Kirsanov’s closing hymn to the Soviet May Day holiday with gusto. 

Keeping the Chorus, prepared by their conductor, James Burton, on stage, Rakitina ended the concert in as crowd-pleasing a way as she began it, with an electrifying account of the “Polovtsian Dances” from Alexander Borodin’s 1890-premiered opera “Prince Igor.” Often presented in concert without chorus, these colorfully orchestrated mini-masterpieces gain ravishing colors from human voices, which kept participants and spectators alike on the edge of their seats. Projected English translations (also helpful in the Shostakovich) even showed a resemblance between some Borodin lyrics and their adaptation in the 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet” as “Stranger in Paradise,” which a few concertgoers of a certain age could be heard singing. 

Her modest yet exuberant stage presence, ability to inspire musicians, and talent for pleasing while educating audiences all promise a bright musical future for Maestra Anna Rakitina.