Tanglewood: Mostly Mozart, and an oddity from Weill

This weekend, a reduced-size Boston Symphony performed all-Mozart concerts, while Tanglewood Music C

This weekend, a reduced-size Boston Symphony performed all-Mozart concerts, while Tanglewood Music Center singers and orchestra presented full productions of Kurt Weill’s opera, “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.” So the Tanglewood summary is — mostly Mozart.

In Lenox on concert nights, cops direct traffic on every block. But in the drizzly gray twilight Friday, the town was deserted — a luckless start for Mozart in midsummer, as well as for Tanglewood and for listeners who didn’t get there.

The concert under Sir Andrew Davis began unconventionally, with two concertos. In Horn Concerto No. 3, James Sommerville, the orchestra’s principal, was in top form (which he would allow that he always is). As if his counterpart in the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra two weeks ago had flung a gauntlet, Sommerville tossed off dazzling trills, a fast scale, nasal twangs, big leaps and hunting calls. Davis and the orchestra accompanied with fleet articulate string runs.

Leon Fleisher, 80, whose dramatic personal history makes it a gift that he can perform at all, played Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 414 with fine control, deep musicality — and two hands. Fifty years ago, during a splendid career, he developed a right-hand muscle ailment that would have sent other artists to another career. But he soldiered on, accepting prestigious administrative positions, mastering the left-hand repertory, being treated with everything from rubber bands to Botox, and never forsaking his dream of a return to two-hand performing. Last winter he actually managed to get through Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, working himself back to a semblance of where he was when the affliction struck.

The Mozart, with several non-showy cadenzas and little spits of ornament, was perfectly chosen in acceptance of his limits, and he has tested it here before. The audience rooted for him as they did for Summerville, and didn’t cough. Someone whispered that he overdid it. Never mind. He did it.

After the short Bach-flavored Masonic Funeral Music, Davis concluded the concert with Symphony No. 39, in an elegant reading with little old-style kettle drums, whose dissonances should have been less matter-of-fact.

Summer sleeper

Saturday night’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for violin and viola was a wonderful sleeper, with Stefan Jackiw, a 2007 Harvard grad who last year stepped in on short notice for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and violist Lawrence Power. Some famous players like to phone this one in, but Saturday’s pairing of the violin’s sweet tone and the viola’s rich one was like fine chocolate, and the piece sparkled.

Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, of which basically the last six are played. The early ones are like divertimentos, but with each one he came closer to the home-run row we know, from the Haffner, No. 35, to the Jupiter, 41. Hans Graf, the Houston Symphony’s good-natured graceful music director, is familiar with the symphonies and led a nuanced reading of Symphony No. 32 and No. 33. They show the 29-year-old Mozart’s transitional giant step from each symphony to the next.

Sunday afternoon was led by André Previn, a sensible all-around musician to whom no one objects. The concert began also with two concertos, the first with principal flute Elizabeth Rowe in an attractive first solo appearance. Her tone is centered and each note had space regardless of its place in a scale. Gil Shaham followed with the early Violin Concerto No. 2, which has nothing to hum, but he’s a happy performer whose playing is always joyful.


Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost, who had sung a concert aria Saturday — “Ch’io mi scordi de te  . . . ” (You want me to forget you?) — with Previn at the piano while Graf led the orchestra, sang another version of it Sunday, with the orchestra and a violin obbligato played by Shaham. Her voice is pretty with a nice zing, but her words were unintelligible both days, even with word sheets in Italian and English.

The program concluded with the “Prague” Symphony, No. 38. Whoever said rain would begin three minutes into the concert won the office pool.

Music director James Levine arranges for Metropolitan Opera coaches and designers to stage annual opera productions — a heady experience for the students performing in Tanglewood’s old Theatre-Concert Hall, scene of the American premiere of “Peter Grimes.” For Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” everyone was in place except Levine, who is recuperating from kidney surgery. But the unsound choice to omit titles for the English translation was his, as was the excellent conductor Erik Nielson, who led all three performances instead of just tonight’s. Talented vivacious singers gave their all, but were overbalanced by the orchestra, and row R, about halfway back, was too far for lip reading.

Utopia, ’30s-style

The Mahagonny (ma-ha-GO-nee) in the story is a utopian city conceived and built by Americans who mess it up and move on to another place where the process will surely be repeated. Peppy nasal ’30s-type band orchestration had the sleazy wit of “The Threepenny Opera.” Props were lowered from the ceiling and scene-change announcements were cleverly pulled across the stage as if on clotheslines. One said, “Seek and ye shall find . . . disappointment.”

“Mahagonny” was composed in 1927 to a German text by Bertolt Brecht, a year before the pair wrote “The Threepenny Opera.” That huge hit came to the United States in 1933, but “Mahagonny” made it to Greenwich Village only in 1970.

In his program note, director/designer Doug Fitch called it “highbrow art delivered with a low-blow punch from a dark alley of civilization.” The leering characters seem troubled, even frantic. They don’t look as if they are seeking what is considered happiness, and the humor is two Germans’ idea of American funny. It is possible that everything changed in the second half, but I didn’t stay for it. Overheard: “I don’t care for operas with electric-chair scenes.” Ditto.

The final performance is tonight at 7:30. Regardless of Brecht’s concept, you’d respect Tanglewood’s package.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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