We'll have to file this under "better late than never." It's been a full week since I heard Handel and Haydn's "Music at Fever Pitch," but much of the concert still lingers in my memory. It marked the Boston debut of Canadian conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni (at left), who exuded a hearty presence and drew a vibrant, driving sound from the orchestra.
The program was book-ended by the familiar - Handel's Concerto Grosso in G Minor (Op.6, No. 6) - and the utterly unknown (to me): Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Elémens; sandwiched between these was Telemann’s Don Quixote Suite and C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A, featuring cellist Phoebe Carrai. Zeitouni's program notes described his selections as based on "innovation," but as said innovations were of differing size and scope (Handel opens his concerto with a slow movement; meanwhile, Telemann experiments with early program music), it was fairly obvious that this was just a thin excuse to perform several interesting, but unrelated, pieces in a single concert.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. The orchestra brought a gentle sweetness to the slow sections of the Handel, but didn't cut any particularly original profile with the piece. Things picked up, however, with Telemann's Don Quixote, a suite of musical evocations of famous moments from the Cervantes classic ("His Attack on the Windmills," etc.). These seemed to be played out of the order listed on the program, but consistently surprised with their imagery and lyrical energy. In particular the "awakening" of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance was appropriately ethereal, and the "gallopings" of both Rocinante and Sancho's mule were hilariously rhythmic.
Alas, a certain amount of air leaked out of the program with C.P.E. Bach's Cello Concerto, the frenzied first movement of which seemed a bit much for cellist Phoebe Carrai; she brought a touching mournfulness to the slow, singing central movement, however. The orchestra then regrouped for a truly thrilling performance of the Rebel, which opens like some kind of early-music Rite of Spring before settling into a series of dances; the piece feels like a baroque proto-ballet, with sets of instruments, like dancers, "representing" the various elements (meaning air, water, earth, and fire). The piece featured sparkling passagework from percussionist John Grimes on a full kitchen's worth of cymbals, tambourines, and chimes, and held the audience captivated throughout; it neatly wrapped the disparate program with a charming flourish.