Emanuel Ax & Alexander Nevsky headline Aug. 15, 2014 Tanglewood program
Article by Dave Read
Tanglewood was the place to be tonight for anyone interested in the breadth and depth of music – in sampling the continuum of sound available in the performance of symphonic compositions. On paper, this was a simple program, two composers, one opus and one soloist each, one orchestra, one chorus, one conductor. The resulting concert was simply splendid, leaving one at a loss to imagine a dimension of musical sound left unheard.
It began with guest conductor Stephane Deneve leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra and pianist Emanuel Ax in Beethoven’s Piano conerto No. 5 in E-flat, Emperor. It was composed in the midst of war, with Napoleon’s army bombarding Vienna, causing Beethoven to seek refuge in the cellar and cover his head with pillows to protect what little remained of his hearing. Yet this piece is the antithesis of bellicosity; what Mr. Ax and the BSO were about was certainly not war. They conspired to produce an aural space where the audience could bask in its complex brightness.
Alexnder Nevsky, from film score to concert piece
Next came Alexnder Nevsky, Cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra, with mezzo-soprano. It was composed by Sergei Prokofiev in collaboration with film director Sergei Eisenstein, to depict the exploits of Alexander Nevsky, the young prince who rallies a ragtag army of Russian peasants in the 13th century to vanquish invading Teutonic Knights. Nevesky, proclaimed Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 16th century, was recently declared the main hero of Russia’s history in a popular poll.
Despite its origins as propoganda in support of Joseph Stalin’s regime, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, which he adapted from the film score, has attained a purely musical life of its own. In fact, attending this performace meant respite from the worrisome world, because it practically commandeers sensibility, one bit of musical splendor following upon another. It may depict awful historical events, but it uses beautiful sounds to do so.