LENOX -- The Philadelphia Orchestra played according to type at Tanglewood last weekend, while the Boston Symphony Orchestra played against it.
On Friday night, Harry Bicket, the British specialist in music of the baroque and classical periods, made his BSO debut in a Bach/Handel program. Neither composer is much performed by the BSO these days, and a small audience seemed curious about how the BSO might play them, although the loss of the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson from the program may have diminished the crowd.
Bicket is a vigorous musician with a lively mind; he delivers the music in a direct, communicative, and intelligent way. He does lack technique, and his left arm duplicates rather than supplements the activities of his right, so he operates in very broad outlines, leaving the players to fill in the details, which they did more convincingly in Handel's ``Music for the Royal Fireworks" than in Bach's Third Orchestral Suite. Concertmaster Tamara Smirnova dispatched the fast violin solos with unshakable equilibrium, and people in the audience were buzzing about the theorbo, a long-necked lute, making a rare appearance in the orchestra; Lucas Harris was the player.
The Canadian violinist Corey Cerovsek, familiar from many appearances at the Gardner Museum, made his BSO debut in Bach's Second Violin Concerto. Cerovsek -- who turns 34 this year, although he still looks 17 -- was on secure musical footing, if not always stylistically attuned to Bicket's way with Bach. His fresh, natural playing was welcome after a summer ful of violinists congealed in the grease of their own celebrity.
The other debut artist was the British mezzo Sarah Connolly, stepping in for Hunt Lieberson. She sang three arias from Handel's opera ``Ariodante," which she has sung at the New York City Opera. Connolly is an admirable artist, offering firm tone, virtuosity in coloratura, and straight-from-the-shoulder emotion.
Sunday afternoon brought the Philadelphia Orchestra. All three music directors of the orchestra since the death of Eugene Ormandy have been accused of ruining the famous ``Philadelphia sound," but it is still there. These performers do not deliver a Slim-Fast or Lean Cuisine sound; it is all red meat, butter, and cream. The level of ensemble virtuosity is extraordinary, and everybody, including the orchestra's history-making new female tubist (Carol Jantsch), tirelessly poured out quality sound.
This juggernaut of Romantic sound rolled right over Beethoven's Eighth Symphony and flattened even Tchaikovsky's Fifth in a way that was overwhelming and peculiar, however, because music director Christoph Eschenbach's approach is so anti-Romantic. He's the exact opposite of BSO music director James Levine in his micromanagement of every detail, and there is nothing spontaneous about him. He is a truly formidable musician, but an unsmiling one, and there is no room for playfulness or charm in an approach built on precision and power.