LENOX -- Some sectors of the press and public never warmed to Seiji Ozawa during his long tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. But a large audience in Boston, in the Berkshires, and around the world certainly did. An audience of 10,495 turned up at Tanglewood Saturday night to hear Ozawa's first concert with the BSO since he left his position four years ago, and his first with the new title his successor James Levine and the orchestra bestowed on him, music director laureate. When he came onstage, the audience leapt to its feet and erupted in shouts of welcome.
His choice for this occasion was Mahler's Symphony No. 2, ``Resurrection," which he has often conducted with the BSO and other orchestras on ceremonial occasions, as in the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. But Ozawa did not offer his familiar, well-organized performance.
Although there are only a few new faces in the BSO since his time, it has become a different and more responsive orchestra now, and Ozawa is a different conductor, too. Four years in Mahler's city, Vienna, and a busy schedule with Mahler's orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, in concerts and operatic performances, have been good for him.
This must have been a very emotional occasion for the conductor; certainly the performance gloried in strong and contrasting emotions. Ozawa's association with Tanglewood began when he arrived as a student in 1960. In addition, Ozawa was returning to the big leagues after an absence of seven months because of medical problems affecting his eye.
Despite a long history of injury and illness, Ozawa remains remarkably fluid and expressive in movement. This is not merely choreography for the audience; in fact, it moves in advance of the music and helps summon its character from the orchestra. His remains a unique physical gift that has become better coordinated with insight and experience.
His Mahler Second is still rigorously organized and superbly controlled, and these qualities are crucial to the long funeral march in the first movement and the sequence of contrasting events from which the composer built the mighty and inspiring finale. There were touches of the old overdrive kicking in, but the performance was more relaxed than it used to be, and it has become a real interpretation, too, full of idiomatic detail and spontaneous impulse, particularly in the quieter passages.
The BSO playing was glorious; many episodes, like the brass chorales that used to sputter and splatter, were admirable in ensemble and balance. The hushed entry of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus into the finale was once again an unearthly and spine-tingling moment. There were significant and eloquent instrumental solos from Ronald Barron, trombone, and John Ferrillo, oboe. The vocal soloists were Nathalie Stutzmann, singing with deep-plush contralto tone and warm feeling, and Heidi Grant Murphy, tracing the higher lines with her pearly soprano.
The audience, chorus, and orchestra went crazy at the end, repeatedly demanding the return of Ozawa to the stage. He seemed to be grasping everyone he could get near enough to touch, and each time he appeared from the side door, he ran out to the center, as if he could hardly wait to arrive at his old home again.