LENOX — The BSO tempted fate this weekend by choosing to re-create an all-Wagner program from Aug. 12, 1937, surely the soggiest in festival history.
On that night, just after Serge Koussevitzky gave the downbeat to the “Rienzi” Overture, the skies opened and rain pounded the makeshift tent like “machine gun fire,” in one contemporary account, forcing the orchestra to stop altogether. The music eventually resumed but it was a long night. Water poured into the tent, the program was truncated, and bulldozers were ultimately needed to pull cars out of the mud. Most significantly of all, Koussevitzky declared he would never again conduct under such circumstances: “It is not fair to my orchestra. It is not fair to my audience. It is not fair to music.” (A lot about Koussevitzky, incidentally, comes through in those three lines.)
The evening proved the catalyst required for some rapid construction, and festival matriarch Gertrude Robinson Smith sensed her moment. During one of the pauses forced by the rain, she took to the stage and called for contributions to build a permanent Shed, raising a remarkable $30,000 that very evening. By the next summer the current Music Shed was standing.
This time around, 75 years later, Valhalla consented and the weather on Saturday night was close to ideal. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch was on the podium, making his BSO debut with Koussevitzky’s chosen orchestral excerpts from “Rienzi,” “Tristan und Isolde,” “Die Walküre,” “Siegfried,” “Parsifal” and “Tannhäuser.” The BSO dips into most of these scores quite rarely these days, so the intermittent rough edges and less than fully polished string playing was not surprising. But Fisch led confidently and with an expert sense of dramatic pacing, keeping the level relatively high through much of the program. The playing in both the opening of the “Rienzi” Overture and in the Forest Murmurs from “Siegfried” was subtle, well-shaded, and atmospheric, and the BSO brasses stepped up with plenty of glowing and at times majestic work distributed throughout the night.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
If there was a bit of fatigue also audible beneath the amped up brilliance of the Wagnerian fireworks, it was understandable by this point in the taxing Tanglewood season. The previous night, Christoph Eschenbach had led a charged, tightly managed, and muscular account of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony, a score that seemed particularly well-suited to the lidded intensity this conductor often brings to Romantic music. He was joined on the first half by the young Chinese violinist Dan Zhu in a rhapsodic if somewhat two-dimensional account of Bernstein’s “Serenade,” a work famously inspired by Plato’s “Symposium.”
Another youthful presence made Sunday afternoon’s program newsworthy. The veteran maestro Kurt Masur was the originally announced conductor, but he has been struggling with myriad health issues and broke his shoulder in a fall on stage in Paris this April. Masur then canceled most of his appearances into the fall, but kept Sunday’s Tanglewood commitment thanks to an improvised solution of sharing podium duties with his son, Ken-David Masur, a conducting fellow this summer at the Tanglewood Music Center.
It’s obviously a nontraditional — and in some ways unenviable — way to make one’s BSO debut, but the younger Masur seemed poised and capable on Sunday, leading the first half of the previously chosen all-Mozart program. It included the Serenade No. 13, with its iconic “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” affably if a bit blandly dispatched. Gerhard Oppitz was the fine soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 24, offering a reading both deft and well-proportioned.
The afternoon’s biggest cheers however went to the very frail-looking Kurt Masur, who took the stage cautiously for Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony. Masur was never a grandly physical conductor and his repertoire of gestures is by now quite reduced but he managed to communicate what was necessary, and the orchestra played beautifully, whether for Masur, or as it sometimes seemed, in tribute to him.