After their all-Beethoven evening, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra proposed a more varied programme for their second appearance of the season at Tanglewood. The three works – a recent opus by a young American, a renowned 20th-century concerto, and a lesser played symphony that deserves reconsideration – might be indicative for the path the BSO’s scheduling will take.

Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood
© Hilary Scott

Previously included in one of the orchestra’s streamed performances, recorded at Symphony Hall earlier this year, Carlos Simon’s Fate Now Conquers was premiered in 2020. According to the composer, its starting point was “the beautifully fluid harmonic structure of the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony”. With incisive, percussion-induced rhythms and colourful orchestration, the brief work has a clear cinematic character. Lively and vague at the same time, the score appears to be flexible enough to be extendable at both ends and adjustable to whatever changes a scenarist might come up with.

The superb Latvian violinist (and Nelsons' compatriot) Baiba Skride was the soloist in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor, and it might very well be that the interpreters’ youth spent on the Baltic shores allows them a different perspective on the tumultuous and melancholic music of the Finnish composer. It was a remarkable if uncommon rendition of a concerto whose importance in the violin repertoire has only grown in the last couple of decades. Skride’s approach was not based on power, glamour or virtuosity but was anchored by poetic expressivity and tonal beauty. Her violin did not thrive to dominate the ensemble but to be fully integrated into the overall soundscape, especially in the first Allegro with so many threads – intoned by clarinets, bassoons or violas – wandering in all directions. Her silvery tone brought a dreamlike quality to the violin line, not only in the Adagio, but in the first of the two Allegros as well, underlining the music’s rhapsodic quality. Nelsons supported his soloist with utmost care in all her exploits, also encouraging individual players to explore the darker details of the musical terrain.

Baiba Skride, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood
© Hilary Scott

It was a cloudy and rainy Sunday afternoon in Tanglewood, and the resident birds felt less of a need to interact with the solo violin or the woodwinds. Nevertheless, they seemed to wake up during the flute and oboe calls in the second movement of Dvořák’s Symphony no. 6 in D major. As always, they distracted the Koussevitzky Shed’s public from listening to music that, truth be told, was not always captivating. Besides the well-known Furiant dance in the Scherzo, even the many of Dvořák charming incursions into Bohemian folklore sounded lame, especially when paralleled with Sibelius’ moody and mysterious evocations of the Finnish equivalent. Compared with his later symphonic output, Dvořák’s Sixth – his first to be published – is still a work where influences (mostly Brahmsian) are not yet meaningfully transcended. Many segments in this mostly ebullient score seem to be filler. Nelsons kept the music flowing, drawing attention to some beautiful details: the trombones contribution in the first movement; the strings’ Meistersinger evoking pesante in the Adagio; the delicate dialogue between flute, piccolo and oboe in the Trio. Despite the BSO's efforts, there seems to be a valid reason why this symphony is seldom played.

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