Nelsons, BSO serve up a sumptuous feast at Tanglewood gala

July 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Andris Nelsons conducted the Tanglewood gala Saturday night. File photo: Stu Rosner

The Tanglewood Gala turned out to be another spectacular evening for Andris Nelsons and the musicians onstage Saturday night at the Koussevitzky Shed.

The concert began with the Latvian maestro leading the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in excerpts from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.

In Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s comedic libretto, the Marschallin, a world-wise wife of a Field Marshall, has a steamy love affair with the younger prince, Octavian, a pants role. To conceal the affair, the prince hides in plain sight by dressing as a female maidservant, using the guise to flirt with and fool the egotistical, skirt-chasing Baron Ochs. When the Marschallin volunteers Octavian to present a young girl, Sophie, with a silver rose, an engagement present from the Baron, the prince and the girl fall in love at first sight. By opera’s end, the Marschallin, accepting the reality that her affair is over, leaves the young couple to profess their love for one another.

An orchestral suite from the opera, believed to have been arranged by the conductor Artur Rodzinski around 1944, condenses Strauss’ sumptuous score into a twenty-minute delicacy. Saturday’s performance of the work included a bonus, the final scene from the opera.

There, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard brought her smooth, amber-toned voice to the role of Octavian. In the love duet between the prince and Sophie, her phrases took on a soft, feathery quality without losing their body. Soprano Sophie Bevan, as Octavian’s love interest, sang beautiful arching lines to mesh with Leonard’s phrases. Angela Denoke brought a touch of heartbreak to the role of the Marschallin, singing with a smooth, milky soprano.

The orchestral suite is chock-full of sensuous music. In Saturday’s performance, its melodies swirled into one another as they glided from one key to another. The love theme sounded with plush warmth, and the waltz, to good effect, was slow to take off as it pulled on the very edges of its meter. Through it all, Nelsons guided with subtle gestures and fine attention to the ebb and flow of the phrasing. The Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra played with searching lyricism and sensitivity.

After intermission, Nelsons led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in two colorful orchestral showpieces.

The Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff’s final composition, is a tour de force of orchestration. With its driving rhythms, lush harmonies, and riffs on Russian liturgical chant and the Dies Irae it can come off as something of a novelty.

But when played well it’s an attractive work, and Nelsons led the BSO in a vivid performance. The outer movements bristled with energy and razor-sharp playing from the winds and brasses. The second movement’s waltz seemed to turn gracefully in its place.

Ravel’s Bolero, symphonic music’s most famous crescendo is, possibly, the best known orchestral showpiece in the repertoire. Nelsons and the orchestra capped off the evening with a sparkling performance of the work.

The Sequentia Ensemble will perform music from the era of Charlemagne 8 p.m. Tuesday at Ozawa Hall. The next Boston Symphony Orchestra concert will feature conductor Edward Gardner, in his debut with the orchestra, leading works by Beethoven, Strauss, and Copland, with baritone Thomas Hampson 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Koussevitzky Shed.

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