LENOX — Conductors and soloists have been forced to cancel on the BSO for falls and for fractures, for ash clouds and for fatherhood. They have canceled many times for undisclosed illnesses, and, once, for wounded pride after feeling slighted by marketing materials.
But three successive Tanglewood performances? Even senior BSO officials and longtime orchestra watchers could not recall anything of the sort, as between Christoph Eschenbach’s ear infection and Andris Nelsons’s concussion, medical problems struck out the entire side slated to conduct at Tanglewood this past weekend.
And so last week, as expressions of sympathy for its plight intermingled with quips about whether Babe Ruth had ever played at the back of the second violin section, BSO administrators rolled up their sleeves and arranged for a string of substitutes. Some worked out better than others, but all three performances continued as planned, with only a small change of repertoire in one of the weekend’s programs.
The pianist Garrick Ohlsson was one able-bodied soloist who notably stepped up for the orchestra. Already slated to perform a recital on Thursday night in Ozawa Hall and a concerto on Sunday’s BSO program, he took on two additional assignments in Friday night’s all-Mozart program, filling in for Eschenbach to perform alongside soprano Christine Schäfer in Mozart’s “Ch’io mi scordi di te” and as the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 27 (swapped for the previously scheduled Piano Concerto No. 12). Ohlsson’s elegance of statement and exemplary control of dynamics made the Larghetto of the latter work a highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, little else that night was on the same level.
The veteran Dutch conductor Edo de Waart was available to step in for Eschenbach on the podium, but under his baton on Friday the strings playing in the concert aria was atypically listless and unfocused, with moments of ensemble drift, and the conductor’s spacious tempo choices did not seem to help Schäfer as she labored to negotiate the lower range of the solo line. De Waart capped the evening with a fluid if somewhat anodyne account of the “Jupiter” Symphony.
Saturday night was meanwhile to have been a banner event for the Tanglewood summer as a whole, with Nelsons scheduled to lead the orchestra for the first time since his appointment as its next music director. The night was instead turned over to the young Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro, who in his BSO debut led with verve and sometimes driving tempos — as in the explosive “Dies Irae” — but also appeared at times to lose the forest for the trees in this sprawling score. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus delivered singing of visceral power, and the BSO itself, having performed the Requiem as recently as this winter, acquitted itself honorably. But Montanaro’s conducting was less successful at summoning the centripetal force necessary to build and sustain the larger dramatic arcs so central to this piece. Saturday’s performance at its best was well managed rather than inspired. Perhaps under the circumstances, it would have been unrealistic to expect more.
The cancellations trickled down to Saturday’s quartet of vocal soloists as well, with the bass-baritone Eric Owens replacing Ferruccio Furlanetto, who withdrew due to a bad cold. It was unclear earlier in the week whether Kristine Opolais, Nelsons’s wife, would be able to leave her convalescing husband to perform as the evening’s soprano soloist. But Nelsons was discharged from the hospital, and Opolais made it to Tanglewood, singing here the “Libera me” with a riveting charisma. Dmytro Popov brought a well-appointed, ringing tenor to his solos, and Lioba Braun was the expressive mezzo-soprano soloist.
It was ultimately Sunday afternoon’s performance that seemed the least derailed by the cancellations, perhaps because the substitute, Ludovic Morlot, has clocked so many miles with the orchestra, as an assistant conductor, a returning guest conductor, and a previous substitute for James Levine on several occasions. Morlot, leading what was to have been Eschenbach’s second program for the weekend, opened with an affably sparkling account of Dvorak’s “Carnival” Overture and closed it with a well-judged and articulate performance of the composer’s “New World” Symphony.
Between the two, the indefatigable Ohlsson was back with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, dispatching it with a technique that was masterfully efficient, perhaps so much so that a bit of the music’s sharp humor and thrust may have fallen to the wayside. Ohlsson however was not the only notable soloist on Sunday’s program. On English horn, the BSO’s Robert Sheena floated the well-loved theme from Dvorak’s Largo with a gentle, sylvan lyricism that seemed in that moment to underscore the orchestra’s baseline consistency, no matter how full its sick bay has become.