Dutoit, BSO serve up a Rossini rarity along with a heartening solo appearance at Tanglewood

August 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm

By Lawrence Budmen

Charles Dutoit conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in music of Mozart and Rossini Friday night at Tanglewood.

Charles Dutoit conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in music of Mozart and Rossini Friday night at Tanglewood.

The Boston Symphony presented a program that was truly worthy of a festival Friday night at Tanglewood. A rare performance of Rossini’s Stabat Mater shared the bill with a remarkable solo turn by nonagenarian pianist Menahem Pressler in a Mozart concerto under the baton of Charles Dutoit.

Rossini’s liturgical setting of the anguish of Mary, Jesus’s mother, at the cross combines the composer’s operatic bel canto flights with a darker musical aura befitting the sacred text. The score is among Rossini’s most inspired, rising to powerful climaxes and concluding with an “Amen” chorale that is more furious than festive. This largely neglected score requires a conductor who can maintain absolute control over the orchestral and choral forces while bringing out Rossini’s singing lines and unleashing heaven-storming climaxes.

Charles Dutoit was the perfect interpreter of this score, capturing both Rossini’s religiosity and theatrical flair. Dutoit is this summer’s Koussevitzky Artist at Tanglewood, an honorary designation given each year to artists who have made major contributions over a period of years to the summer festival and the Boston  Symphony. 

The orchestra was in prime form, attesting to Dutoit’s masterful command of instrumental textures and the larger architecture of the score. Under guest choral director James Burton, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus brought gleaming vocal sonority and subtly terraced dynamics to their a capella voicings of the “Eeia, mater” and the lamentations in “Quando corpus morietur.” Dutoit skillfully blended both chorus and vocal soloists with the orchestra’s highly charged playing.

Rossini’s score requires four soloists of stellar operatic quality. Substituting for the indisposed Matthew Polenzani, Pavol Breslik displayed an attractive lyric tenor. His light timbre shone in the famous “Cujas animam” solo. He brought deftness and vocal beauty to Rossini’s curving lines. Simona Saturova’s strong coloratura soprano was a tower of strength, her high register freely produced. She unleashed torrents of emotion as the score became darker in the”Fac un portem” section for soprano and chorus.  Marianna Pizzolato’s deep low notes and powerful mezzo was impressive in solo moments and blended wonderfully with the other quartet members, Riccardo Zanellato was a stellar basso cantante in the great Italian tradition, his voice evenly projected. In a performance of such vocal beauty and intelligent musical direction, the score emerged as a true masterpiece.

Menahem Pressler

Menahem Pressler

At age 92, it would seem miraculous that Pressler could perform at all, much less give a convincing rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. He had to be helped to the piano but, once seated at the keyboard, he gave a performance that would be a credit to an artist half his age.

The longtime pianist of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio, Pressler’s technical acuity remains largely intact. Except for two brief slips, every note was well placed and carefully weighted. Pressler’s familiar lightness of touch and sense of musical flow blossomed in this mostly sunny  work. A fine Mozartean stylist, Pressler phrased the score’s paragraphs in one long arc and the  more inward thread of the second movement Adagio, the concerto’s heart, was projected with clarity. The finely proportioned dialogue between piano and winds emerged with clarity.

The finale may have been somewhat wanting in brio but Pressler’s aristocratic phrasing bespoke the style of pianists of a previous generation who valued innate musicality over flash and cold brilliance. Ever the stalwart collaborator, Dutoit brought a winning combination of elegance and drive to the orchestral writing.

The program opened with a whirlwind reading of the Overture to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Brilliant orchestral execution was enhanced by Dutoit’s mix of vigor and courtly grace.

The Tanglewood Festival continues 8 p.m. Saturday at the Koussevitzky Music Shed in Lenox, Massachusetts with Andris Nelsons conducting a concert version of Acts I and II of Verdi’s Aida featuring Kristine Opolais, Violeta Urmana, Andrea Care, Franco Vassallo, Morris Robinson, Kwangchul Youn and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. tanglewood.org

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