Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not ready for their close-up

The women of Les Bostonades.

Plenty of Bostonians are unaware of this - it's obscured by the print press's devotion to the BSO - but the Hub isn't only the hub of the universe in general, but also a hub of early music performance; indeed, our vibrant period music scene is probably what's most interesting about Boston when it comes to classical music. As a result, performance standards for period music have gone through the roof - it's rare that I go to a concert that isn't flat-out virtuosic.

So last weekend's performance by Les Bostonades, an up-and-coming ensemble that plays across the area, came as something of a shock, for these players, though talented, clearly weren't ready for prime time with this particular program. Their selections, from the French baroque, were quite interesting - I was only familiar with one, Couperin's lovely Huitième Concert dans le goût Théatral, and I'd never even heard of one of the other composers, François Colin de Blamont. The setting - Emmanuel's Lindsey Chapel (one of Boston's architectural gems) - was beautiful and apt. And I'm a huge fan of the vocal soloist of the evening, soprano Teresa Wakim (at left). Usually the kind of folks who dig this deeply into the repertoire, and who align with singers as talented as Wakim, know very much what they're doing.

So what went wrong? My gut is that rehearsal was lacking, although a certain cultural meme that's currently ascendant may have also had something to do with the disappointing performance. To be blunt, Les Bostonades never fully cohered as an ensemble - they came closest when backing Wakim, because she essentially served as their leader in her selections, but elsewhere their playing was ragged, and that's a problem when you're looking at an ensemble that features four violinists, all of whom seemed ever-so-slightly out of synch (with one even slipping out of tune, despite protracted re-tunings between numbers). And for the record, I'm afraid the smaller trio that opened the second half of the concert seemed even less cohesive. There's currently a vogue for "leaderless" ensembles, but this concert was a not-too-subtle reminder that it's rare for a group, even a talented group, to be able to put together a concert with just a few rehearsals and a sympathetic mix of personalities. The kind of sixth sense that frees performers from requiring a conductor usually comes from hammering out a style through hours and hours of playing together; but here it was quite clear that even basic consensus decisions - like a precisely defined beat - had never actually been reached.

Luckily, Wakim was in superb voice, and sang with more full-throated passion than usual. And her selections - Rameau's "Le Berger Fidele" and Collin de Blamont's "Didon" were both ravishing and surprisingly dramatic. "Didon" also drew from the rest of Les Bostonades their best playing - forceful, passionate, and infused (at last) with a genuine sense of ensemble. My guess is that this talented group gave most of their rehearsal time to this intriguing obscurity - the same amount of time they'll have to give the rest of their future programs if they're going to match the standards we now expect of the Boston early music scene.