Boston Symphony Orchestra – Andris Nelsons conducts Opening Night at Tanglewood – Wynton Marsalis, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Daniil Trifonov

Wynton Marsalis
Herald, Holler and Hallelujah!
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Symphony No.4 in F-minor, Op.36

Daniil Trifonov (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 7 July, 2023
Venue: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

As a curtain-raiser to launch their 2023 Tanglewood Season, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra appropriately chose a “fanfare for brass and percussion” – Wynton Marsalis’s Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! The piece is a series of fanfares for which Marsalis illuminates his conception in a poetic program note that includes these references to the three H-words in his title: “Brass heralds sing the coming and going of things. Brazen brass hollers and shouts in the harsh-tongued dialect of iron and steel. And the angels sing. Hallelujah. hah-lay-loo-yah brothers and sisters!”

Marsalis is adept in the realms of both jazz and classical music, both of which influence this short work. The brass repeatedly rings out brilliantly, at one point alluding to (although not directly quoting) Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The percussionists provide a variety of sounds as well as supplying rhythmic underpinnings. Nelsons led the ensemble with considerable precision, but allowed the musicians greater latitude as jazz influences become increasingly prominent in the bouncy final section, suggestive of the big-band era, before fading away softly.

Daniil Trifonov exuded enthusiasm and eagerness to plunge into Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, which he did most emphatically following William R. Hudgins’s clarinet solo. Trifonov negotiated the Concerto’s challenges with spectacular technique, capturing the music’s sarcastic wit and humor. After the piano echoed a clever juxtaposition of oboe, pizzicatos and castanets, Trifonov powerfully dashed off a series of rising and falling octaves to conclude the first movement. In the first of the middle movement’s five variations, Trifonov’s trills and glissando launched a lovely sentimental discourse, and in the more rapid-paced variation that followed, his traversal of intricate figurations, set against muted brass, was most impressive. The Finale featured fine playing from the woodwinds, beginning with the bassoons announcement of a humorous idea, and ending with a non-stop race that showed off Trifonov’s incredible virtuosity. Trifonov’s charming but staid encore, the Gavotte from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, seemed oddly anticlimactic.

After intermission, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The opening fanfare – Fate – showed off the brass, with Thomas Rolfs’s trumpet figurations most resplendent. Nelsons adjusted tempos and managed overlapping rhythms with precision. He kept strings and winds in balance throughout their complex interplay, notably in the fascinating episode launched by a jaunty theme on Hudgins’s clarinet that is echoed by the flutes and then, softly, bassoon, with the winds continuing to converse as the strings carry their waltz theme forward. The brass was allowed to play at full power in each reprise of the ‘Fate’ motif, including at the climactic ending, marked by Timothy Genis’s big timpani beats and concluding drumroll.

Nelsons brought out the song-like character of the Andantino, introduced by John Ferrillo’s oboe solo, and then taken up by the strings as flutes chattered beneath. The cellos were especially gorgeous leading into Richard Svoboda’s haunting bassoon solos at the movement’s end. The strings deftly carried off the delightful Scherzo’s pizzicatos and Nelsons led the Finale without subtlety, milking its bravado for all it was worth, and the BSO responded brilliantly.

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