By Helen Epstein.
Tanglewood had a stellar opening night on Friday with perfect weather, a large crowd, and melodious concerts of mostly Tchaikovsky.
Those who like to get as much music as possible for their money in one Tanglewood weekend are well advised to drive out to the Berkshires early. Tanglewood’s offerings begin on Fridays at 6 p.m. in Ozawa Hall with short Prelude chamber concerts that are free with admission to the main event at 8:30.
Prelude concerts, many of which are performed by members of the BSO, can be uneven. Sometimes they sound thrown together at the last minute; on other occasions, they are exquisitely executed. Friday’s Prelude concert was superb. Violinists Elita Kang and Julianne Lee, violists Steven Ansell and Rebecca Gitter, cellist Owen Young, and double bassist Thomas Van Dyck performed Tchaikovsky’s strong sextet “Souvenir de Florence” as though they were a chamber group of long-standing, making the sonorous piece sound like an intimate conversation among well-attuned friends. It was delightful to hear these orchestra players’ individual voices. You could have heard a pin drop during the performance, which was met with an ovation. The group minus Van Dyk and Gitter also gave a crisp rendition of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade for string quartet. I hope to hear more from them.
Opening night in the shed proffered more Tchaikovsky, featuring violinist Joshua Bell as the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducting an orchestra that sounded well-rehearsed and psyched for an interesting summer. I’m not fond of Bell’s expressive, if not to say showy, style, which puts me in the mind of Las Vegas flash, even if I close my eyes and don’t watch what he’s doing. To me, Bell’s performance sounded souped up, slinky, schmaltzy, milked for every ounce of pathos. However, I was in the minority. The audience ate it up as they did the orchestra’s rousing performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The brass was especially beautiful, and the strings sounded as one player. A wonderful start to the summer season.