Tanglewood’s closing weekend reflected the season: Pops concert (mostly Gershwin), seldom-heard work (Falla’s opera, “La vida breve”) and the traditional concert of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (after a commissioned curtain-raiser) with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
Friday’s pre-concert recital by the Boston Cello Quartet — four witty young guys from the rear of the cello section — set a lively mood for the weekend. The quartet’s founder, Blaise Dejardin, is the one who wonders how Verdi’s Overture to “La forza del destino,” or Chick Corea’s “Spain,” might sound on four cellos, or, “What if we took a chance on a piece composed and sent in by a fan?”
From those musings came an hour of arrangements, premieres and ripoffs that made the audience chuckle and cheer: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony morphs into Joplin’s “Entertainer,” eventually proceeding to Schubert’s “Trout” and the Highland Fling. (T-shirts sold outside Ozawa Hall, as well as a first CD due this winter, were probably Dejardin’s idea, too.)
The Boston Pops concert, mostly Gershwin, that followed in the Koussevitzky Music Shed was conducted by Keith Lockhart. The Pops (the Symphony minus first chairs) were zippy, as were the arrangements, but “Rhapsody in Blue,” with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev, was wooden all around. Maureen McGovern had an off night: high notes and articulation were more beyond reproach than the howling sounds of her middle register or her word retrieval.
On the other hand, Brian Stokes Mitchell had a fine night, singing and miming to “Slap That Bass” while Pops principal bassist Lawrence Wolfe did the actual slapping and twirling.
The concert concluded with a film showing of the famous ballet from “An American in Paris,” starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The orchestra was live — great idea.
Saturday’s composers, from Spain, were Isaac Albeniz (contemporary of Mahler and Debussy) and Manuel de Falla (contemporary of Ives and Richard Strauss). Fruhbeck, the German-Spanish conductor who has become the closing weekend substitute for disappearing music directors, is an advocate for his countrymen’s works.
He first brought Falla’s short, unstaged opera, “La vida breve,” to Tanglewood in 2003, and led it last season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Its story is standard but thin: poor girl’s rich lover (adequate tenor Vincente Ombuena) leaves her for rich bride, as poor girl (Nancy Fabiola Herrera, Fruhbeck’s usual soprano) predicts nonstop. Purple with Spanish passion, she crashes his wedding and dies at his feet. A chorus curses being born poor, and a voice in the forge (strong tenor Gustavo Pena) laments those who are born anvils instead of hammers.
It could be said that the music rises above the libretto, or that the libretto drags the score down. The high point, as it was nine years ago, was the hot flamenco dancing (with fluid castanets) of Nuria Pomares Rojas. Antonio Reyes was the guitarist accompanying her and folk singer Pedro Sanz.
The Albeniz “Suite espanola” compiles Fruhbeck’s 1960 orchestrations of five Spanish dances for piano, named for regions of the country. Those familiar with Andres Segovia’s guitar versions missed their fairylike fleetness here. By comparison, the orchestrated version had feet of clay. (Plus, Segovia plucked out only the best ones of the seven.)
No weather woes
Sunday was everything last year’s final concert of the season wasn’t: that is, it took place, whereas last year’s was canceled because of Hurricane Irene. Fruhbeck, thin and frail after recent stomach surgery, showed that he can conduct while sitting and still show authority and experience.
The final commission for Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary was resident composer John Harbison’s “Koussevitzky Said.” A brief in-house opener in an impossible position — preceding Beethoven’s mighty Ninth Symphony — it is cleverly crafted from remarks by former Boston Symphony music director Serge Koussevitzky, with even a reference to Tanglewood. “I will keep playing this music — until you hear it,” is one telling sentence. Another remark is, “The next Beethoven will from Colorado come.” The piece is tonal, canonic and even catchy, exhibiting Harbison’s typical intelligence.
The Ninth is a behemoth: 26 tempo changes in four movements. Even the Scherzo is enormous, not to mention the introduction of a large chorus in the last movement.
Fruhbeck knew what he wanted from the orchestra and how to get it. A few phrases and entrances didn’t start together, but the interpretation was solid and big-boned.
As if to compensate for last year, the sunny weather behaved perfectly. The big crowd cheered and cheered.