The weekend’s concerts at Tanglewood displayed the strength and variety of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s promising summer season. A showy symphony, a concerto with a famous soloist, a large choral piece and a pops concert were performed in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, while chamber music by orchestra members and student fellows was heard in Seiji Ozawa Hall.
If the music was heavenly, the weather apparently came from somewhere else. Storms and chilly Berkshire breezes on Friday and Saturday washed out the lawn crowd, and while Tanglewood no longer releases attendance figures, an educated guess is that they were a third — at most — of those earlier in the week, for Bob Dylan and James Taylor.
Humidity didn’t do much for string tone either, particularly in the Ozawa Hall weekly Prelude preceding Friday’s Shed concert. One could hear the excellence of ensemble playing in Beethoven and Ravel quartets, but the tone of the four BSO members couldn’t fully penetrate the thick air. The elderly audience, familiar with Tanglewood weather, knew how to listen for phrasing and line.
The highlight of the Shed concert was the performance of violinist Joshua Bell, an audience favorite, of Concerto No. 3 by Saint-Saens. Written for the great virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, it is the least unfamiliar of the composer’s concertos. Bell — so musical — played every phrase as if it were precious, digging into plangent low notes and making melodies sound like sweet film scores.
Quebec-born Jacques Lacombe conducted the dramatic program, which began with Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso” and concluded with Prokofiev’s saucy Symphony No. 5. Lacombe, ending a successful stint with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and professionally on the rise, stepped in for the late Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos on Tanglewood opening night two years ago, and has twice been invited back.
He knows what he’s doing, and delivers reliably. He also presided over Saturday’s concert, which featured the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Carl Orff’s wild, colorful “Carmina Burana,” which he has recorded for the CPO label.
Here he fared less well, pushing tempo and making the piece more military than juicy and lascivious. (At one point, baritone Stephen Powell, as the drunken abbot, forced him to slow down.)
The chorus, and the children of the Norway Pond Junior Minstrels, sang the Latin and medieval German lyrics well — mercifully, there were supertitle translations — but showed signs of the transition since John Oliver, the chorus founder, retired last summer.
Betsy Burleigh, probably on the short list to succeed Oliver, paid acute attention to detail and full-bodied tone. It was a surprise to see members holding scores instead singing from memory, which they usually do and which many still were. Beautifully in tune on the wicked high soprano solo, Nadine Sierra, who recently made debuts at the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala, left the audience whispering with delight.
The first half of the program was very French: Debussy’s “Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun” and the wordless choral version of Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe” Suite No. 2. Flutist Elizabeth Rowe had the right languor, and Lacombe had a nice impressionist sense of both pieces.
Sunday afternoon, the Boston Pops was conducted by the assured Keith Lockhart, who has held that post over more than two decades. The first half, Fiedler style, was light classics by Bernstein, Dvorak and Copland. The second half was a showcase for television personality Seth MacFarlane, of “Family Guy,” who had opened the Pops season in May. He is skilled at chatting up the room, though Sinatra-style arrangements by Nelson Riddle and others indicate that he should keep his day job.
The sun came out, the lawn picked up sitters, and many were glad to smile at their home-screen friend.