With the extraordinarily high standards of conservatory graduates today, performances of Wagner’s music dramas have fled beyond the precinct of the very largest opera houses, and we may well forget how difficult it was only a couple of generations ago to cast and stage Tristan und Isolde at, say, the Metropolitan Opera, which once had to cast one Tristan per act, when the billed tenor was indisposed, and the two available replacements were also under the weather. Already by then the aging devotees of Flagstad and Melchior grumbled about just how far their standards would have to sink, before they stopped going to hear Wagner in New York. I still hear that today from long-time Wagnerians.
The Aston Magna concert of July 27 in Saint James Place in Great Barrington featuring music of Johann Pachelbel, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Heitor Villa Lobos was a feast of beauty. The variety of works by these composers gave the ensemble and featured soloists opportunities to display their virtuosity and their admirable expressiveness. Aldo Abreu delighted the audience with brilliant skill in Vivaldi’s Concert for Sopranino Recorder in A minor. He and Christopher Krueger, also on recorder, were then featured in a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, along with violinist Edson Scheid who commanded his solo part with tremendous skill and playfulness.
In Williams Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the Bard baits us at every moment. We all long for a sweet love-life. Finding this requires, in this play, a whole lot of passionate listening, and in Shakespeare and Company’s outdoor production in the Dell at the Mount, director Kelly Galvin gave it to us.
Conductor Antonio Pappano led the young players of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States in a spectacular performance of Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony on August 1st in Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. The Alpine Symphony is well-known to be one of the most difficult orchestral pieces in the symphonic repertoire. To watch the intensity of these instrumentalists was almost as wonderful as hearing them. The hall vibrated with exuberance as well as tenderness. Conductor Antonio Pappano has every right to be proud of this superb young group of players.
Opera has been a significant presence at Tanglewood since the 1940s, whether in concert performances at the Koussevitzky Music Shed or fully-staged in the Theater—among the first structures to be built at Tanglewood, but disused since the Levine years—and I’ll confess a certain fondness for it, in spite of its spartan grimness, uncomfortable seats, and less-than-ideal acoustics. There, TMC Vocal Fellows and the TMC Orchestra could flex their muscles with sets and costumes, often producing superb results, above all in Mozart. The high points of opera at Tanglewood include performances of rarities under Leinsdorf and Ozawa, and I should mention Dutoit’s superb performance of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in the Shed, as well as Szymanowski’s great Król Roger in Symphony Hall. Verdi’s Don Carlo and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, both with the TMC Orchestra were also outstanding events at Tanglewood.
Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 at Tanglewood is what I have been waiting for throughout the summer. A while ago I had the privilege of hearing this magnificent work in the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna. Though it may seem childish to say so, the slow movement of the great piece is almost frightening. So powerful it is when the first chord sounds in the third movement, it is as if a spirit has entered your body, is opening your ears, is finding and knowing more about being human than comes from any other work of art. This great movement produces a catholic music so sublime, it engulfs all my passions.