LENOX — Yes there was a soloist cancellation because of COVID-related travel complications, the Shed remains limited to half capacity, concerts still have no intermissions, and the orchestra’s streaming portal (BSO Now) is still up and running with new content.
But overall, novelty edged toward normalcy during the summer’s second weekend of Boston Symphony Orchestra performances at Tanglewood as older routines, natural and musical, began reasserting themselves. In this case, persistent rain showers did what rain showers do, emptying much of the lawn, washing the air, and swathing a Mozart Adagio, for those lucky enough to be under cover of the Shed on Sunday, with this festival’s signature blend of nature-meets-culture beauty. On the musical side, performances were mostly solid while programming was mostly staid, with not a note written within the last 100 years.
The weekend’s definite highlight was an appearance by the Russian soloist Daniil Trifonov in Brahms’s mighty Piano Concerto No. 1, a work of symphonic proportions in which the pianist routinely battles to be heard through the assertive and thickly scored orchestra. This was not a challenge for Trifonov, a pianist whose playing weds a probing and thoughtful poetic sensibility with more traditional, steel-tipped Russian firepower. Both sides of his musical personality were given ample expression on Saturday in a performance that was fiercely committed from the very start of the incisive and deeply felt opening movement. Quieter passagework rippled like wind on water. Even the passing thunderstorms could not interrupt Trifonov’s intensity of focus all the way through the finale, which surged with both corruscatingly brilliant virtuosity and a more raw variety of primal energy.
The crowd’s ovation for the soloist was instant and lusty, and it receded only when Trifonov after several bows sat down again for an encore, a transcription of the aria “Bist du bei mir, geh ich mit Freuden,” from the “Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook.” After the surging tumult of the Brahms, the quiet dignity and sublime stillness of Trifonov’s playing here arrived like a prayer.
The night had begun with Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony in a somewhat overly spacious performance by Nelsons and the orchestra. The composer fashioned the nickname “Classical” for his own Symphony No. 1 partly “out of mischief,” but this Janus-faced work really does summon the pellucid clarity and sunlit vistas of an earlier era. Nelsons drew out these backward-looking elements, often declining to put them in ironic quotation marks and in fact savoring them to a degree that felt at times out of proportion. The orchestra was nonetheless alert and the playing grew more vibrant with each passing movement.
Sunday’s matinee was supposed to feature the sibling piano duo of Lucas and Arthur Jussen in a Mozart concerto but undisclosed COVID-related travel issues prevented them from appearing. That left Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel as the only siblings on the program. Fanny was a prodigiously gifted musician whose career was not permitted to flourish outside the home, and in recent decades her works have hovered on the distant periphery of the repertoire. Let’s hope that the new perspectives on programming that are taking hold, with differing speeds at ensembles across the country, yield more opportunities for audiences to explore her work.
In this case, the BSO gave a persuasive, well-characterized account of her Overture in C. The work’s extended introduction here came across as slightly bogged down but Nelsons’s reading then quickly found its footing. On the other end of the program came Felix’s Symphony No. 5 in a reading that was blurry around the edges yet still boasted some sparkling, chamber music-like contributions of the BSO woodwinds, especially principal flute Elizabeth Rowe, who beautifully rendered the expansive flute solo between the third and fourth movements (a passage previously trimmed but restored by Christopher Hogwood in his 2009 critical edition used here).
In lieu of the brothers Jussen, violinist Gil Shaham was on hand with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, a dependably genial work that he dashed off in an eloquent if unexceptional performance.
The festival’s abbreviated summer is flying by, with next weekend marking the halfway point. Keith Lockhart and the Pops will pay tribute to John Williams, the BSO will perform a Williams premiere, and the Tanglewood Music Center will kick off a shortened (two-day) edition of its two-day Festival of Contemporary Music directed by Thomas Adès.
BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
At: Tanglewood, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.