To launch the Boston Symphony Orchestra Tanglewood Music Festival for 2017, Andris Nelsons conducted a powerful performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony.
The Boston Symphony’s rendering of the opening inescapably evoked the storm that begins Wagner’s Die Walküre, as the double basses and cellos established a funeral march. As the movement progressed Nelsons managed seamless transitions that allowed lyrical passages to blossom gloriously while maintaining forward thrust and also delivered huge outbursts with shocking impact.
Nelsons observed Mahler’s request for an extended pause after the first movement, which had the effect of softening its stark contrast with the Ländler that begins the second. Nelsons all but ignored the cellists as they played a graceful lyrical melody, focusing his attention on the contrapuntal accompaniment by muted violins and violas. The Scherzo, based on Mahler’s Wunderhorn song ‘Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt’ (St Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fishes), captured both its comedic import and its suggestion of flowing water, with beats by a rute (bunch of sticks) against the bass-drum case often setting the pace. The BSO’s winds took full advantage of their many opportunities, with standouts including E-flat clarinet, English horn, trumpets, and flute and piccolo players with seemingly endless breath. Immediately following was Bernarda Fink’s gorgeous soaring against soft strings in ‘Urlicht’ (Primal Light), also from Wunderhorn, a peaceful atmosphere created but shattered by the Finale’s cataclysmic entry.
This extensive final movement features horn-calls, fanfares, chorales, marches, birdsong, drum rolls, percussive crescendos, and offstage contributions. Nelsons maintained the integrity of each episode while skillfully guiding the music through its frequent changes of atmosphere. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus was excellent, softly intoning a cappella along with Malin Christensson the opening lines of Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode (as adapted and augmented by Mahler). After successive passages beginning “O glaube” (Oh believe) by an impassioned Fink and a more serene Christensson, they and the Chorus traversed the remaining text, expressing belief in eternal life – a counterpoint to the opening movement’s funereal focus – and which is celebrated in the exuberant closing paean.