Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Boston Baroque moves heaven and earth

Boston Baroque, with soloists, in action.

I confess that "In the beginning," as the saying goes, I was nervous. As Boston Baroque essayed the famous opening bars of Haydn's The Creation (Die Schöpfung), which are meant to convey primordial chaos, things sounded, well . . . not exactly chaotic, but instead simply under-rehearsed. Entrances and exits felt perfunctory, and crucial crescendos and diminuendos just weren't there (particularly in a climbing scale from the clarinet, which should shoot off into the sonic nebulae like a sputtering comet).  My partner and I gave each other our patented "Uh-oh" look.  Were we in for a long night?

Thankfully, we quickly realized we weren't.  The orchestra righted itself with the C-major blast that accompanies "Let there be light," and never looked back.  And strangely enough, when the instrumentalists returned to the heavens for the moment in which God puts the sun and moon through their paces, they did their best playing of the night.  So go figure.  Other highlights - among many - included the lugubriously lilting entrance of the great whales, and the rise of dawn over Eden. The Creation is famously all about tone-painting, as Haydn musically catalogs everything mentioned in Genesis (and a whole lot more), and happily conductor Martin Pearlman and his orchestra brought the same even-handed detail to the Leviathan as they did to the lowly worm (which yes, gets its own brief motif).

The chorus was likewise in solid form - although they were singing in German, a language which is always hard for me to assess in performance (even when sung correctly, it rarely sounds pinpoint sharp).  At any rate, the choruses don't do all that much in The Creation but add an exclamation point of praise (perhaps a bit repetitively) to the arias of the soloists, which the chorale did with gusto.

And fortunately Boston Baroque had brought an A-team of soloists to this particular game - soprano Amanda Forsythe shared the stage with tenor Keith Jameson and bass-baritone Kevin Deas.  Ms. Forsythe looked radiant, and undaunted by the fact that she's once more expecting - perhaps any minute,  to be honest, from the look of things.  (Someone should really write this intrepid lady an oratorio called The Procreation!)  Forsythe sang the role of Gabriel with her usual exquisitely lyrical purity, perhaps reaching a new height in the song to the lark and the nightingale (which as yet sings no mournful note of sorrow) accompanied by evocative trills from flutists Sandra Miller, Wendy Rolfe, and Andrea LeBlanc.  Later,  as Eve, Forsythe smiled patiently through Haydn's silly emphasis on her obedience to Adam (but perhaps we should forgive the aging composer's sexist daydream, as it's known his own wife, to whom he was always faithful, was famously difficult, and even professed to dislike his music!).

Forsythe was perhaps the first among equals in this talented trio, but both Deas and Jameson had brilliant moments.  Deas's voice wasn't showcased at its strongest in his opening arias, which are placed a bit high in his range; his instrument is at its richest lower down - luckily for us, he also essayed both the whales and the lowly worm (with a closing note that seemed to drop at least an octave below the stage floor).  Deas also made a warm and unassuming Adam - and Jameson had his best moments in Eden, too, singing of the creation of the First Couple with a ravishingly sophisticated radiance.  The evening ended just as it should - on a note of poignant, innocent sweetness (Eve and Adam are just about to be tempted by that notorious apple).  One of the things that is special about Haydn is his expression of a truly thankful faith via an exquisitely inventive musical voice.  In Boston Baroque's performance you could hear both sides of that deeply moving combination.

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