This was the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s “Opening Night at Tanglewood”, beginning with Andris Nelsons leading a lively rendition of the Overture to The Magic Flute. Lang Lang, sidelined for a year and a half by an arm injury, then entered. There was nothing flamboyant in his appearance, demeanor or playing, and he gave a restrained reading of K491. While waiting for the dark introduction to conclude, the pianist silently beat time, and there were just a few exaggerated gestures. He engaged in lively dialogue with the orchestra in the Allegro, thundering along with it in the coda right up to the last bar. He then gave a lovely account of the Larghetto’s lyrical theme, and sparkled in several of the variations in the Allegretto Finale. Lang Lang’s encore was a delicate traversal of Chopin’s C-sharp minor Nocturne, published posthumously.
Following intermission, Nelsons led an account of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony (included to mark Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, he conducted the work three times at Tanglewood) that brought out its variety of rhythm and tonal colors and the unifying impact of the thematic material. Ever attentive to detail, Nelsons was particularly adept in managing crescendos, initially restraining dynamic levels in order to leave breathing room for phrases to expand. The woodwinds were marvelous in painting ominous soundscapes, beginning with the clarinets and bassoons in the Andante introduction, and again at the movement’s quiet close, and the strings were superb in projecting Tchaikovsky’s sweeping melodies, including the melody introduced by James Somerville’s gorgeous horn solo in the second-movement Andante cantabile, and then in the succeeding Waltz. The brass was potent in dramatic outbursts and resplendent in triumphant moments, often propelled by the excellent timpanist Timothy Genis; and, in the Finale, Nelsons kept the music surging forward, with entrances of brass and timpani landing with explosive effect, the trumpets sounding calls to arms, the low brass roaring like cannons, and the BSO marching in a victory celebration.