LENOX — The thing about the vast fellowship of humanity summoned by the Enlightenment dream of Schiller’s ode “To Joy” is that, when the entire group tries to get to Tanglewood at the same time, the traffic is terrible.
That, and OK maybe also an accident, left cars stacked bumper to bumper down a bucolic country road over a mile from one Tanglewood gate on Sunday afternoon, as the embraced millions attempted to gather for the BSO’s annual season-closing traversal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It was a reminder of how the more primal magic of the summer festival experience — the way the musical fruits of urban living are transplanted to places blissfully unshadowed by city life — can sometimes be a bit more complicated than that. We often bring the city with us.
I wish the quiet town of Lenox a good vacation from everyone else’s vacation.
This year the BSO’s summer wrap-up included the customary Ninth as well as, borrowing a play from the Marlboro festival’s season-ending playbook, Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy.” Yefim Bronfman was the afternoon’s soloist in the latter work, putting the cherry on top of an impressive year of Beethoven in which he performed all five Piano Concertos and the Triple Concerto with both the BSO and the New York Philharmonic.
Sunday’s “Choral Fantasy” found Bronfman in top form, his rendering of the solo line by turns incisive, granitic, and delicately wrought. Despite the massed musical forces gathered around him, there was also at certain moments an intimate quality to his account, and the world of the composer’s piano sonatas felt not as far away as it might have. Those high-flown trills drifting off on Sunday’s breeze were still of a different sort than the ones that beckon sublimely from the Arietta of the Sonata Op. 111, but in Bronfman’s hands there was at least a family resemblance.
Beethoven keeps the choristers waiting patiently for much of this work. But when the time came, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sent out sheets of exuberant choral sound. A fine sextet of soloists also contributed to this unusually fresh performance.
Presiding in a relaxed manner from the podium was the Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit. This weekend’s pair of Dutoit-led programs in fact made for a reunion of sorts, as Dutoit and the orchestra spent 10 days together in May on tour to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Tokyo. The comfortable chemistry on view Sunday was, in other words, well-earned. Surely Dutoit has led more BSO performances this past year than any other conductor.
Other Tanglewood Ninths of recent memory have offered greater expressive depths, higher drama, and more pristine detail. But Dutoit’s reading had its own unforced elegance and accumulated grandeur, one that sparked an ovation lasting almost five full minutes. John Relyea was the standout among vocal soloists, burnished in tone and rhetorically expansive as he called on the multitudes — “let us tune our voices” — with arms outstretched. The other capable soloists were Nicole Cabell, Tamara Mumford, and Noah Stewart.
The previous evening found Dutoit and the orchestra passing a chilly night in the Shed by reheating some repertoire from the Symphony Hall season: specifically, Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” this time with piano soloist Kirill Gerstein, who brought a muscular intensity and seriousness of purpose to this flashiest of works. Gerstein’s technique is formidable, but he used it not to break any land speed records but to find the constructive rigor and thoughtfulness in music whose impact can sometimes be blunted by its own popularity.
Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival” opened Saturday’s concert and Respighi’s Roman Trilogy closed it. It was something of a novelty to hear all three Respighi works — “Roman Festivals,” “Fountains of Rome,” “Pines of Rome” — on a single program though this music’s cumulative charm, at least in Saturday’s rather casually appointed performance, was no greater than the sum of its parts. “Pines of Rome,” though not the others, will be back on the agenda next month, when Andris Nelsons leads the work on his first official program as the orchestra’s music director.