Kurt Masur takes the BSO to the east
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood, Lenox
Sunday, July 13, 2:30 p.m.

Kurt Masur conducting

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture after Shakespeare
Sibelius : Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47
Featuring Sarah Chang, soloist
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G, Opus 88

Review by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, July 14, 2003) -- Kurt Masur took the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood crowd east and northeast on Sunday with a program featuring compositions by Russian (Tchaikovsky), Finnish (Sibelius) and Czech (Dvorak) composers. The concert kicked off with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, a well-worn warhorse from classical music’s Top 40 hit parade. But in the hands of Masur and the BSO, the piece steered clear of syrup and schmaltz; instead, the orchestra (and some very overactive chirping birds) found previously unexplored drama and nuance in the 18-minute piece, which very effectively set a welcoming tone for the more weighty fare to come.

The Sibelius was a showcase for the Korean-American virtuoso, Sarah Chang, who at 22 has already appeared in music capitals worldwide and performed with nearly every major orchestra and many leading conductors. Returning to Tanglewood after a four-year absence, Chang took on the challenge of Sibelius’s bleak, emotionally bumpy score, which she performed from memory in a dazzling display of stamina and virtuosity.

The interplay between Chang and the orchestra – particularly the bass section – was at time staggeringly telepathic. If the piece was something less than beautiful, that was due to Sibelius and not any failing on the part of the musicians; the concerto was the product of a tormented soul, and the attempts to put unify the musical shards into a thematic whole can be read as a metaphor for Sibelius’s psychological trauma.

The Dvorak, however, brought the picture-perfect Tanglewood afternoon to a glorious conclusion. It’s hard not to hear hints of things to come in Dvorak’s Eighth, his next symphony, the ninth, being his best known, From the New World. Here, too, Dvorak works in bits and pieces of national folk music and explodes them into symphonic proportions, imbuing the piece with a populist, emotional resonance. But one also hears hints that Dvorak was already thinking beyond his homeland, as certain sweeps and waves harkened with a brightness and freshness which bespoke the optimism of Copland yet to come.

Masur, in particular, seemed to revel in Dvorak’s epic tendencies, throwing himself into the piece with unprecedented gusto and brio. The Dvorak gave him the most to work with, with its intricate tricks of shifting modes and dynamic possibilities, and Masur clearly had a sense of where he wanted to take this piece – and the audience.

[Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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