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Rachmaninov's Symphony No 3 in A minor is played too infrequently. All of the composer's melodic inspiration is on display in this score but it is tinged with a spikier modernism and ominous references to the Dies Irae. (Even an ultra-traditionalist like Rachmaninov had to acknowledge the artistic ferment of his era.) Morlot is a major podium talent. He brought burning passion and throbbing rhythmic tension to this wonderful score, producing a romantic, sensuous performance. The orchestra's gleaming strings, glowing brass and knockout percussion had a field day with Rachmaninov's opulent orchestration.

The preceding weekend Kurt Masur, who just celebrated his eightieth birthday, was on the Tanglewood podium. Like fine wine, Masur has only ripened with age. His consummate mastery is now balanced by an autumnal serenity that brings greater depth to his music making. Prokofiev's Symphony No 1 in D, the opening work on the 27 July concert, has long been a Masur specialty. He brought genial verve to every bar, pinpointing the composer's quirky instrumental and harmonic invention. Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 1 glistened with color from Joshua Bell in prime form, his radiant tone engulfing the music shed. Bell took the Scherzo: Vivacissimo at a headlong clip; a gutsy, whirlwind devil's dance. He spun the Moderato-Allegro moderato as one elongated, songful ode; searing violin and exquisite winds in beautiful duet at the conclusion. Masur's reading of Beethoven's Symphony No 1 in C was masterful. I have never heard a better performance of this score. The magical balance of silken strings and lovely winds attest to Masur's orchestral wizardry. From the vivacious opening movement to the aristocratically spun Andante cantabile con moto to the Rossinian vigor of the finale, this was a superb Beethoven 1st, a performance to remember.

Joshua Bell performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Kurt Masur on 27 July 2007. Photo © 2007 Hilary Scott
Joshua Bell performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Kurt Masur on 27 July 2007. Photo © 2007 Hilary Scott

A 29 July matinée found Masur leading the last three Mozart symphonies. This venerable conductor's Mozart is unabashedly old fashioned. Definitely not a believer in period instrument orthodoxy, Masur utilized a large orchestral ensemble, emphasizing warm instrumental timbres and strong contrasts. This was big boned Mozart in the tradition of Beecham and Krips with memorable turns of phrase amidst high drama. Masur's virile, elegant Menuetto: Allegretto in the Symphony No 39 in E flat was a vibrant example. The Symphony No 40 in G minor emerged dramatic, neo-romantic, proto sturm und drang with a high intensity Allegro assai finale. Masur's subtle performance of the Symphony No 41 in C (Jupiter) proved most rewarding. In the second movement Andante cantabile, he vividly captured the tragedy beneath Mozart's glittering cascade of instrumental timbres. Masur managed the Menuetto with elegant simplicity; sincerity over artifice. The grandly fugal Molto allegro finale was distinguished by marvelous clarity of instrumental texture. With the Boston Symphony in top form, the melding of natural beauty and glorious music was indeed special. That is the magic of Tanglewood!

Copyright © 25 August 2007 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA





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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller