LENOX — The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 75th summer season at Tanglewood opened Friday night, with popular symphonic staples and a nod to the past. The weather cooperated on what was close to a perfect Berkshires night. The only storm was the one Beethoven wrote into his “Pastoral” Symphony, the only thunderclaps of the pyrotechnic variety.
The nod to the past came by way of celebrating the anniversary of Tanglewood’s founding: the program replicated the first program offered by the orchestra on the newly donated Tanglewood grounds, on Aug. 5, 1937, under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky.
Much of Tanglewood today would be unrecognizable to those first audiences who packed under a leak-prone makeshift tent, dazzled by the sheer novelty of hearing one of the country’s great orchestras in picturesque rural surroundings, under Koussevitzky no less, who usually went back to Europe during the summers.
Then again, in terms of repertoire, perhaps not so much has changed. Friday night’s replicated all-Beethoven program — the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 alongside the composer’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies — could easily slip unnoticed onto the schedule of any recent Tanglewood summer, leaving us with a slightly awkward irony: an act of historic recreation that is indistinguishable from the orchestra’s everyday contemporary life.
But let’s leave that aside for the moment; this was a night for thinking festive anniversary thoughts. And it was not hard to do so with the insightful Christoph von Dohnanyi on the podium, a conductor who has delivered some of the most rewarding Tanglewood concerts in recent seasons. The opening pages of the “Leonore” Overture were notable for their dynamic subtlety and control. The “Pastoral” was, from its opening bars, affable and flowing, with some beautifully drawn woodwind solos and a lightly tripping second movement.
Dohnanyi presided over the Fifth not with exaggerated podium theatrics but with the air of an avuncular gardener, pruning the orchestra’s sound, organizing its textures, making sure that shiver of notes from the violins had the right iridescence, or that climax in the finale sufficient power in the bass. The orchestra’s sound in the Fifth Symphony was full, open, and robust, yet Dohnanyi’s ear for detail and his preference for lean textures kept his Fifth from tipping over into the land of flabby orchestral cliché. No matter how well you think you know this music, he seemed to say, there’s always something new to hear.
This was the first of several anniversary-themed programs slated for the summer. After all the orchestra has been through in recent seasons, its leaders must be grateful for the opportunity to celebrate.