Tanglewood Sunday afternoons shine as social affairs. This one was up to par, starting with charmingly tongue-tied opening remarks by Andris Nelsons, who compensated in spontaneity for what he lacked in eloquence, as he conveyed the importance of rain “for the vegetables” to the lawn throngs, just as the first drops of un-forecast rain began plopping on their foreheads. The hustle and bustle on the greensward amused with its usual diversity; still not quite racially balanced, in nevertheless presenting a wide spectrum: from New Yorkers with their brands from head to toe, or in this case to the blanket, all the way to local rustics with their chaotic picnic spreads. A couple of hours later, there came another heart-warming community moment, as grateful fans celebrated the retiring magicians of the winds: bassoonist Richard Ranti and the Principal Horn James Sommerville. The program in between also delivered a great deal of reminders of the well-endowed home team, both brass and wood.
Julia Adolphe’s Makeshift Castle had been heard before in Symphony Hall, adding the pang of recognition to an already rather robust and crowd-pleasing sonic fabric. Trumpets and trombones shone brightly in its boisterous first part before giving way to the world of shimmering mysteries.
To the multitudes gathered in front of lawn-facing screens, defending against the rain, the cosmic visions of the dissipating castles must have felt a bit like Nova on a family room TV.
But even if that sounds like a stretch, the Petrushka Suite after the intermission certainly must have resembled a Sunday morning Nickelodeon. If one is to enjoy the rambunctious Russian tunes in the present geopolitical turmoil, the best way is to ignore the gloomy menace emerging from the crevices of Stravinsky’s orchestral feast. Let’s follow the long tradition of Ballets Russes afficionados and pretend these are just cartoon characters. Fortunately not all of the score centers on tiresome repeats of folk songs; we also heard plenty of masterful interplay among the sections, exquisitely phrased and woven by Nelsons, as well as Vytas Baksys’s terrific delivery of the piano part.
The most rewarding of the program however came from the least planned part. When Covid-plagued Yo-Yo Ma had to withdraw from the planned performance of the Shostakovich’s concerto, any conceptual structure envisioned for this Sunday’s program departed with him. Instead, sandwiched between the Makeshift Castle and the Sunday morning cartoons, came Renee Fleming with a selection of Richard Strauss’s songs with orchestra. And while the opening soccer-mom nonsense of Muttertändelei sounded sufficiently cartoonish and solicited a lot of giggles, the rest of the sequence, starting with soothing Wiegenlied Opus 41 no. 1, quickly transported us into a completely different world. The magical interplay between Feming and the orchestra and her level of control truly amazed us. This dream culminated in Morgen, a glorious ensemble of Fleming with the Associate Concertmaster Alexander Velinzon; two achingly beautiful instruments achieved perfect balance.
Good luck finding that on your TV remote.