Boston Symphony Orchestra keeps it nostalgic with Avner Dorman premiere at Tanglewood
LENOX — Andris Nelsons has left the building, and the Koussevitzky Music Shed podium will be a merry-go-round of maestros for most weekends from here on out this Tanglewood season. Though the conductors may be constantly changing, the repertoire the Boston Symphony Orchestra is playing isn’t changing much. There are a few exceptions, but it’s mostly chestnuts and warhorses all the way down. Saturday evening’s American premiere of Avner Dorman’s Double Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra represented the last scheduled BSO performance of any music by a living composer this summer. It’s a bit funny, then, that Dorman describes the narrative of the piece as a conflict between nostalgia and modernity, with a happy medium ultimately being reached. It’s clear that at Tanglewood, nostalgia wins the day.
Guest conductor Asher Fisch, who led the BSO on Saturday evening, has long been a champion of Dorman’s work. This busy and ultimately conservative Double Concerto was a star vehicle for its soloists: the married duo of violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth, longtime partners in both performance and life. With her robust timbre and earthy accents set against his silvery sound, which was ethereal without being silky, they played with obvious relish, and sounded more at ease with the piece than the orchestra did. After intermission, Zukerman again joined the BSO for Beethoven’s stately Romance No. 1 in G, dispatching tart and tight phrases with a few sour notes.
To begin the concert, Fisch led the BSO through an excitable account of the overture to “Genoveva” — the full Schumann opera historically flopped on stage, but its compelling overture, which just begins to dip into chromaticism, is a concert favorite. The evening concluded with a lithe accounting of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” which offered a lovely narrative passage for violins in the first movement and a quick, flashing clarinet solo from William Hudgins in the scherzo. The finale rang with the sincere gravity of a patriotic tune or an old drinking song.
On Sunday, the lawn was graced with one of those perfect Tanglewood-picnic afternoons for a program of a much-loved piano concerto and a more obscure symphony. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is one of those pieces where, if the soloist doesn’t get a standing ovation within five seconds, something has gone terribly wrong; in the hands of some pianists, it’s 40 minutes of fireworks. Yefim Bronfman wasn’t one of these. He treated the concerto like the marathon it was, and he knows the course by heart; he conserved his energy judiciously, applying measured amounts of force in his cadenzas. On the podium, Dima Slobodeniouk matched the pianist’s balanced approach.
Overall, the concerto sounded slightly distant, though softer sections had the heft to shine through the Shed’s acoustic dark spots. His touch on the keys sounded authoritative and vehement, and sometimes seemed close to getting bogged down in the first movement, but by the third, he gave everyone the fireworks they waited for. The standing ovation took all of two seconds to arrive, and the audience called him back out three times before he delivered an encore: Chopin’s Étude in E Major.
After intermission, the Russian-Finnish conductor pulled on the other side of his roots with Sibelius’s sprawling, lowercase-r romantic Symphony No. 1, which the BSO hasn’t performed since 1995. Its introduction was gorgeous, with a clarinet solo from Hudgins twisting and floating above quiet timpani thunder. Not Sibelius’s tightest work, the symphony itself tends to meander — it felt longer than its roughly 40 minutes — but it has strong points that the orchestra and Slobodeniouk deftly emphasized: dark colors, craggy rhythms, spacious sonorities in the trombones, a frantic round-dance for the winds, a sweet and open unison melody for the strings in the second movement. I’d hear it again before another 24 years pass.