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Monday, July 05, 2021

Back to Tanglewood

From the Classical Vault Dept.: More summer venues have announced their 2021 seasons, and Tanglewood will be back with the kind of programming you expect – the kind of programming that drew me there 35 years ago to write the review that follows.


The lush lawn at Tanglewood just got its summer crewcut as the Boston Symphony Orchestra season got under way with two concerts by guest conductor Charles Dutoit. Saturday’s was a slam-bang beginning.

Charles Dutoit

The 200th birthday of composer Carol Maria von Weber was saluted with the overture from his opera Der Freischuetz and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat. The overture is a staple of the orchestral repertory and offers the better groups a display of dynamics and color. Dutoit, best known as music director of the Montreal Symphony, has a terrific hand for bringing out just those characteristics.

The drama of the overture was brought out nicely by Dutoit’s treatment of the piece as a voiceless aria; like Mozart, Weber informed his melodies with a singing quality. A thickly textured sequence for horn quartet is a mean thing to hand the horn-players so early in the concert but these players were superb.

Malcolm Frager was the concerto soloist. A Tanglewood favorite for more than 20 years, he brings a zest to his playing that is the true essence of virtuosity. The Weber concerto provides plenty of opportunity to strut the technical stuff and Frager pulled it off pretty much without a hitch –  the bobbled couple of notes in the faster passages are worth mentioning only to illustrate the risks he takes to achieve his effects, something many other artists should try.

The orchestral accompaniment to the three-movement work was a stqdy in how it should be done, covering a broader spectrum from soft to loud than most conductors are willing to attempt. The pianissimo passages were still quite audible but much more in agreement with what the soloist was up to.

This is a big work with a Beethovenish feeling. The drama of the beginning contrasts with a chamber-music feel to the second movement, which opens with a muted violin quartet and puts the piano’s entrance against a solo viola.

The Rondo begins with keyboard fireworks and goes on to display the composer’s great sense of humor. Did this piece get a rotten deal from posterity? It deserves a stronger place in the repertory, which more ormances like Frager’s ought to ensure.

The program closed with Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” This is the best stuff of summer-lawn concerts (and compact discs), a loud, exciting score that gives a workout to strings and spit-valves.

The secret to a successful performance is rather mathematical: Stravinsky’s complicated rhythms must be translated into a relentless pulse. Dutoit already has proven his mastery of the piece with a very fine recording recently made; this collaboration with the Boston Symphony sparkled from start to finish, bringing the audience to its feet.

The Boston Symphony continues at Tanglewood this weekend with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting; a highlight will be a Fourth-of-July concert of music by American composers.

– Schenectady Gazette, 30 June 1986

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