Hilary Scott - BSO Opening Night of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's season at Tanglewood featured a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 led by Andris Nelsons and featuring Bernarda Fink and Malin Christensson.
By Andrew L. Pincus, Special to The Eagle
LENOX - Andris Nelsons was pretty clearly making a statement by opening the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood season with Mahler's vast "Resurrection" Symphony, No. 2.
I'm here, he seemed to be saying, and I mean to do big things with this orchestra and festival. With Wagner's complete "Rheingold" and six other concerts still to come during his four weeks on the podium, plus deepening involvement in the Tanglewood Music Center, he had reason for such grandiosity.
The trouble was, the Mahler performance on Friday night sputtered only intermittently into life.
Several things went wrong. Humidity with rain showers, which began exactly when the music did, blanketed the orchestra's sound and execution; blend was a chancy affair. But chiefly, the music director took a slow, cautious approach to a work whose many dramatic, even staggering shifts of tempo, dynamics and mood need to be knit into an organic whole.
The thunderous ending, promising the certainty of resurrection, raised the roof and yanked the audience to its feet, screaming; the finale will do that. But instead of a coherent narrative leading up to the storming of heaven, the changes of effect sometimes sounded more like a series of interruptions.
In a sense, the Mahler Second is a conclusion of the hero's struggle and triumph in the First Symphony. The Second also connects with the Fourth, which Nelsons will conduct this afternoon with his wife, soprano Kristine Opolais, as soloist.
The Second and Fourth share quotation of Mahler's humorous song in which Saint Anthony of Padua preaches to the fishes, which simply go their fishy way, swimming off. The melody adds to the sardonic humor - the grotesquerie - of the Third's scherzo slow movement. As always in Mahler, the sardonic links with the transcendent; percussion snarls and offstage fanfares summon humanity to a higher beauty.
The Second is in five movements, the first of them a long funeral march for the hero, the last a very long climb toward heaven for every one of us. In each, Nelsons gave the cataclysmic outbursts due weight, the lyrical interludes a melting quality. But the passages, drawn out and tonally uncertain, seemed to stand apart.The cumulative effect was lost.
The shorter, lighter inner movements - Mahler called them raisins in his cake, according to the program notes - were better sustained but still fell short in character. Throughout, Nelsons made deft use of the strings' slides between notes, which were common in Mahler's time.
It was left to soprano Malin Christensson to open up the performance with her heartfelt singing of "Urlicht" ("Primal Light"), a child's prayer for eternal life. She and mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink joined with the festival chorus, prepared by its new conductor, James Burton, in the booming ode to resurrection.
In the choral finale, the debt to the Beethoven Ninth was transparent. A circle will close when Nelsons conducts the Ninth in the traditional Tanglewood closing concert.
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