The menu for Sunday afternoon’s Shed concert would provoke me to grumble if I were encountering it in November. Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole and the Beethoven Fifth, with a “safe” modern work, another Christopher Rouse one-word-for-a-title opener did not offer any challenges to the listener. However, at Tanglewood in July, on a see-almost-forever clear day, with the incoming music director on the podium to provide hope, it felt like a day to be simply grateful: grateful for the fact that Boston has a world-class orchestra; grateful that we have signs of encouraging new leadership; and grateful for the luxury of seeing soloists like Joshua Bell in midsummer.
Rouse wrote Rapture in 2000 and described it as “the most unabashedly tonal music” he has composed. Mostly he succeeds in making new the resources of consonance to create an emotion of immersive, profound happiness. As it was played by the orchestra dressed entirely in white, the men in white jackets, I had a vision of the heavenly orchestra that backed the young Frank Sinatra in As The Clouds Roll By, but playing this higher-brow repertoire. As the Rapture drove towards its resolution I found Rouse’s vision of rapture to be rather louder than my own, and involving much more timpani.
Joshua Bell’s Lalo was as passionate as you might expect, effortless and effortful in perfect measure. He even managed to turn his good looks into a self-deprecating moment of humor, as he dealt with recalcitrant hair after the first movement. In both the Rouse and the Lalo, the energy and color Nelsons and the orchestra had brought to the previous evening’s Tchaikovsky appeared in new guises, but always alive and vivid.
And then, there’s the Fifth. For all of its overexposure and my caviling about how it shows up everywhere, I find that what Woody Allen said about orgasms applies to the Fifth – “even my worst one was right on the money” – and this was a pretty good one. None of the reservations that came to mind during Saturday’s Brahms troubled me, and in Nelsons’ hands the symphony was closely argued and wound just tightly enough. If you want more details… well, Nelsons favored a short initial fermata; did an excellent job bringing out the three-note motive in the finale in the bass; often beat quite lightly, or not at all, trusting the orchestra to keep itself going; conducted a number of passages on one foot, looking pleasantly tipsy doing so; and left both feet a number of times, but never to distraction. The orchestra and conductor earned the loudest and most prolonged applause of the weekend at its conclusion, and we were able to walk out into the sunny afternoon encouraged by the prospects for the future.