Thomas, Masur lead BSO closers
LENOX - The Boston Symphony Orchestra concluded its summer season at Tanglewood on Sunday afternoon with a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony led by Michael Tilson Thomas. Even the weather cooperated with the rain holding off and the skies brightening for a couple of hours. Maybe Schiller’s “Daughter of Elysium’’ pulled a few strings.
The previous evening, Kurt Masur had lead the penultimate BSO concert, an all-Mendelssohn affair drawn mostly from the program he led last season in Symphony Hall. Masur is a seasoned Mendelssohnian and he opened the night with a pleasingly dark-hued performance of the “Hebrides Overture,’’ and ended with a dignified account of the “Italian’’ Symphony, its final movement appealingly light and brisk. In between, Gil Shaham gave a technically assured but musically scattershot performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. His playing in the first two movements had an episodic feel and the third movement a rather hectic quality as Shaham bolted ahead of the orchestra on several occasions, leaving Masur and company scrambling.
On Sunday Thomas led off with Ives’s rarely performed “Decoration Day.’’ Written in the years just before World War I, it is a symphonic evocation of an earlier era’s memorial day to fallen soldiers, in this case the Civil War dead, as recalled by the composer from his New England youth. In effect, the piece is a short stretch of program music conjuring a quaint scene that starts on the local town green, complete with the Village Cornet Band, the volunteer Fire Brigade, and a quotation from “Taps.’’ But it is of course Ivesian program music, meaning that the representations are at once literal and complex, with multiple events overlapping and building up in a richly atmospheric collage. Thomas and the BSO’s performance caught the piece’s many shifting moods. It was particularly welcome as a rarity smuggled onto a program that is otherwise all about received tradition.
In fact, the tradition of ending every single Tanglewood season with Beethoven’s Ninth can seem stale or worthwhile depending on who is conducting. In this case, Thomas brought abundant energy and conviction to the occasion. This summer’s concerts were his first return to the BSO, where he got his start, in over two decades and he led an animated performance of the Ninth that had both sweep and power.
In the early movements Thomas seemed keen on bringing out telling details of the score - a woodwind countermelody here, a percussion interjection there - that can sometimes go unnoticed. There was some occasional untidiness in the orchestral playing, but the monumental finale had both shape and primal force. Raymond
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.