Recording of the Week Tanglewood 75th Anniversary Celebration Concert
Summer is upon us, and those of us still in the (sweltering) Presto office rather than on holiday are finding that our listening is becoming increasingly geared around the fruits of various music festivals. With the Proms now well underway, we’ve been catching up on the previous night’s offerings in between enjoying the current crop of DVDs celebrating the wonderful international events which rejuvenate artists and visiting audiences alike.
Pick of the week is a 75th birthday present to and from the Tanglewood Festival, which takes place each year in Massachusetts: founded by Serge Koussevitzky, the Festival fast became one of the highlights of America’s musical year, with a particular commitment to American music of the early and mid-twentieth century. Due out next Monday, the programme on this DVD juxtaposes what is on paper an incongruous array of genres and performers: after a brassy, sassy first course of Copland and Bernstein (both composers had close ties with Tanglewood), we have jazz legend James Taylor in selections from the Great American Songbook followed by Festival stalwart Emanuel Ax in two movements from a Haydn piano concerto, then Yo-Yo Ma in a serenely radiant arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile, before Anne-Sophie Mutter delivers a blistering account of Sarasate’s fiendish Carmen Fantasy. Next there’s Ravel’s La Valse under Andris Nelsons (a newcomer to Tanglewood) in a performance which captures all of the piece’s manic urbanity, and finally a massed performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with the collected Festival forces.
If this all sounds rather eclectic, well, yes it is – but it all hangs together beautifully as a celebration of the festival’s diversity and joie de vivre. The performance styles, too, come together in a strange harmony of contrasts: witness Taylor’s louche, unbuttoned understatement next to the classical poise of Ax, or Ma’s still centredness cheek-by-jowl with Nelsons’s mercurial energy (his facial expression as he gives the upbeat to the Sarasate is a one-second masterclass in how to galvanise a youth orchestra!). But what’s common to all these approaches is the camaraderie and commitment which they all exude: the sense of shared experience and generosity is particularly evident in those performances which pair old hands with talented novices. As with the Lugano Festival recordings which Chris enjoyed a few weeks back, there’s a palpable sense of the ‘holiday mood’ and of that special synthesis of relaxation and energy which is generated when musicians get to live and work together for a short spell in such a beautiful and inspiring setting.
There are brief but insightful ‘talking heads’ from the key artists, all of whom pay tribute to the unique atmosphere of the Festival and its significance in their development, as well as a short documentary summarising its history (some lovely historical performance clips in here!). The camerawork captures the spirit of the evening beautifully: revealing without being intrusive or over-busy, there’s just the right mixture of panoramic shots and well-timed close-ups, and during the opening Fanfare for the Common Man we get some lovely glimpses of the al fresco audience settling in under the early-evening stars, from toddlers to those old enough to remember the Festival in its infancy.
If this brief excursion to Tanglewood has whetted your appetite for a virtual Grand Tour of the great festivals, it will definitely be worth catching The Magic Mountain, a 5-DVD celebration of the Verbier Festival, also due for release next week: a baby in comparison with Tanglewood, Verbier turns twenty this year. Happy (musical) holidays!
Boston Pops Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; Keith Lockhart, David Zinman, John Williams, Andris Nelsons (conductors) Blu-ray version also available .
Available Format: DVD Video
Highlights from 20 Years of the Verbier Festival
Martha Argerich, Adam Laloum, Susan Graham, Martin Helmchen, Lars Vogt, Thomas Quasthoff, Hélène Grimaud and many more
Available Format: DVD Video