Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 15, 2023

REVIEW: Boston Symphony Orchestra, "Adolphe/Strauss/Stravinsky"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
August 13, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

The program for Sunday’s (8/13) afternoon concert led by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons proved as changeable as the Berkshire weather that afternoon. Days earlier, cellist Yo-Yo Ma cancelled his planned appearance after testing positive for COVID-19, and soprano Renee Fleming graciously stepped in. Thus, Dmitri Shostakovich’s first cello concerto was replaced by six songs with orchestra by Richard Strauss. The other two works on the program were unchanged. 

The concert opened with a rousing account of Julia Adolphe’s mercurial 2022 BSO commission “Makeshift Castle.” The 15-minute piece evokes a childhood memory of her father crying at the beauty of a sunset, her reflection on the joy of that moment, and her recent grief at his passing. The large orchestra vividly evoked its striking instrumental effects and frequent mood shifts. The rising American composer took a well-earned post-performance bow before an appreciative audience.
Renee Fleming
Fleming then received a hero’s welcome, not just for saving the day but for the warm charisma she brings to every performance. Her selection of six non-operatic songs composed or orchestrated throughout Strauss’s long career, between 1885 and 1948, was ideally suited to her lush, creamy soprano, and each found her in radiant voice. She was richly partnered by Nelsons and the BSO, who reveled in the sumptuous accompaniments. 

Standouts included: an ebullient “Muttertandelei” (“Mother Chatter”), with a text by Gottfried August Burger about a new mother’s delight in her young child; a dramatic Zueignung” (“Dedication”), to a text by Hermann von Gilm about gratitude for love; and a rapturous “Morgen” (“Tomorrow”), with a text by John Henry Mackay of hope for happiness, featuring gorgeous solos by associate concertmaster Alexander Velinzon and principal harp Jessica Zhou. By the end of Fleming’s set, a sudden rain shower outside the Koussevitzky Music Shed even gave way to sunshine. 

The program closed with a brilliant reading of Igor Stravinsky’s 1947 revision of his 1911 ballet “Petrushka.” Like much of Stravinsky’s music, “Petrushka” draws on Russian folk traditions. Its four scenes are set at a Shrovetide (pre-Lenten) Fair in 1830’s St. Petersburg, where three puppets – the trickster title character, a ballerina, and a Moor – enact their loves and jealousies. Nelsons and his musicians (including pianist Vytas Baksys as Petrushka) played this dazzling score with the same virtuosic flair they showcased all afternoon.