The weekend that wasn’t vs. the one that was
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has vamped for several years awaiting a successor to James Levine. The new music director, Andris Nelsons, showed up for two weeks and poof, he’s gone. (Next year it’s to be three weeks. Eight, anyone? Not likely.)
Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos stepped in as a musical father figure to conduct several concerts, including last weekend’s. (Everybody loved Rafi.) But he died of cancer in June. After some scrambling, Christoph von Dohnanyi agreed to replace him. He withdrew when his sister reportedly became ill. Again the conductor search was on.
Last weekend’s imposing programs of well-known repertory — Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 Saturday and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 plus Verdi opera favorites Sunday — were led by replacements for replacements. (“The star is sick, you’re on, kid.”) And behold, they carried it off.
Neither Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony, who led the Mahler, nor Jacques Lacombe of the New Jersey Symphony, who did the Verdi, are novices. But they had never been at Tanglewood, they weren’t familiar with the BSO, the semi-outdoor Koussevitzky Music Shed, humidity, compressed rehearsal time, the soloists or the formidable Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which sang resonantly without scores and stared down the conductor. Yet it was always interesting, generally persuasive, and some was really good.
The Austrian-born Honeck, skilled and strong, held the large forces in check, found suspense in the softer parts and let it all rip out at the movements’ endings. He supported the romance of three-quarter time and shaped the stately dance sections. Some may not have liked the exaggerations, but Honeck was the boss, and knew how to get what he wanted.
Lacombe, a French Canadian, had an equally big job, and could have used more rehearsal in the beloved Rachmaninoff concerto. For about ten minutes, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero had ideas about tempo that weren’t the same as Lacombe’s. But when it came to flash and volume, they were on the same page. The audience loved it. Loved it.
Verdi’s overture to “Nabucco” and “Va, pensiero” (the chorus that was sung spontaneously on the streets of Milan when he died) and the Triumphal Scene from “Aida” were cherry-picked tunes as yummy as anything ever written.
So how to explain my craving for more love and wallowing in the music. The marches should be played as if the whole audience was about to stand and bellow along. These are the people’s tunes, but they were — um — performed instead of pulled from the soul.
Sorry to nitpick. Brave lucky conductors, great music, nice weather, roars of approval. No ax murders, like “Lizzie Borden,” the opera coming July 31.