Lenox — When members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra find themselves in a pandemic lockdown for months at a time, you can be sure they do not pass the hours binge-watching “Game of Thrones” or surfing the web. They are likewise disinclined to the three-martini lunch. They’ve been practicing more than usual, and you could hear it on July 3 when the BSO kicked off the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival with a recital performance — newly recorded at Tanglewood — given by four of the BSO’s finest string players accompanied by two of Boston’s finest pianists, along with BSO associate principal flute Elizabeth Ostling.
The musicians’ total command of the material on this program is especially noteworthy when you remember that they’ve been locked up like the rest of us since the time of dinosaurs. It’s also worth noting that the players sat at a pandemic-safe distance from one another in the Linde Center’s Studio E. This could be disadvantageous to less advanced musicians, because good ensemble depends on subtle cues like breathing noise and visual signals seen only in a player’s peripheral vision.
Here’s the whole lineup from Friday’s recital:
Elizabeth Ostling is associate principal flute of the BSO and principal flute of the Boston Pops. In the Shed, you can just barely see her sitting onstage with the other woodwind players, so her face may be unfamiliar to you. But you’ll definitely recognize her if you’ve been listening to concerts from the lawn, because the video screens out there give you close-up views of everyone onstage.
Alexander Velinzon is BSO associate concertmaster. You’ll recognize him easily, because in the Shed with the BSO, he usually sits at the front of the first violin section.
Bracha Malkin plays in the BSO’s second violin section. She and her sister Anat Malkin Almani have won numerous competitions together performing as the Malkin Duo.
Cathy Basrak is assistant principal viola of the BSO and principal viola of the Boston Pops. She gave the premiere of a viola concerto written for her by John Williams.
Blaise Déjardin is principal cello of the BSO. His face is familiar to Shed audiences because he usually sits right at the edge of the stage at the front of the cello section. Blaise is a composer and a founding member of the Boston Cello Quartet.
Randall Hodgkinson provides piano accompaniment for all manner of BSO-based chamber music performances. So does Jonathan Bass. Both men teach at New England Conservatory and elsewhere around Boston, and both have performed with major orchestras.
Seeing the players up close like this and getting to know them a little makes the music they play all the more interesting and enjoyable, whether it’s in recital or on the Shed stage with the full BSO. (That’s why the “BSO at Home” content is so valuable.)
The piece for unaccompanied flute by James Lee III, “Chôro sem tristeza,” was perfectly paired with Copland’s “Duo for Flute and Piano,” which, even on the first listen, sounds unmistakably like Copland in the first few measures. If you really want to plumb the depths of an individual musician’s capabilities, you’ll hardly do better than these two flute pieces, because real virtuosity is required on both. Ms. Ostling supplied it and made the performances look easy. (We haven’t forgotten that BSO musicians must be athletes as well as artists.)
Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 44, is as demanding as a symphony, both for players and listeners. Considerable stamina is required of all the players just to get through it, never mind playing every note perfectly. These musicians crushed the piece without breaking a sweat, executing the last measure with all the fresh vigor they showed on the first.
It matters that the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival’s recitals were recorded in the Linde Center’s Studio E, which is essentially a state-of-the-art recording studio disguised as a small auditorium. Many claims have been made about this facility’s sonic capabilities. The room is configurable, making for perfect acoustics no matter what kind of music is being performed. The proof is in the hearing, and it’s hard to imagine a better-sounding room for performing a Brahms quintet.