|Photo by Kayan Szymczak for the Boston Globe.|
I'm terribly late with this review, and I feel especially guilty because the concert in question was delightful, as Boston Baroque's annual double-gala on New Year's (both Day and Eve) always is. But then the intense crush in the lobby at Sanders Theatre last Monday was proof positive these folks don't need good reviews to get out the word about this tradition anymore, everyone knows it's the place to be for classical music fans on January 1.
Don't imagine, however, that just because a crowd is largely blue-haired that things can't get rough; honestly, I can remember crowds at the Rat back in the day that were more polite than the one that elbowed its way into Sanders Theatre that afternoon. Then again, folks knew the concert was being broadcast live on WCRB, so it had to begin on a dime (if you were listening, however, don't think that what you heard had the tenor of a tea party - well, maybe it did if you're thinking of the NEW tea party!).
At any rate, the WCRB recording didn't get much in the way of things musically, even if it did slightly muddle the usual intimate atmosphere that Boston Baroque conjures with its audience (at its New Year concerts in particular). Emcee Cathy Fuller made a gently fulsome, if slightly blank, hostess, and Pearlman came off as slightly diffident in his radio patter, perhaps - but then he is a bit diffident, isn't he; indeed, as I listened to him I suddenly felt a strange sense of correspondence between his vocal presentation and the way he thinks musically. Not a direct correspondence, actually - rather an inverted one; I wondered if Pearlman's swift, graceful tempi were actually the final goal of a careful consideration that can manifest itself in his speech as hesitancy. But be that as it may, the broadcast in general felt like a sweet moment of triumph for this local light, who certainly deserves accolades for his dedication to Boston Baroque (and before that Banchetto Musicale, yes I'm that old) over the past decades.
After the introductions, the concert got off to a clean, rousing start with a gleaming rendition of a Corelli Concerto Grosso (Op. 6, No. 10), which might have almost stood as typification of Boston Baroque style: dancing, even sparkling, with some depth but not too much. The ensemble here, and throughout the concert, was focused and responsive, even luminous; the players knew they were on the spot before perhaps their largest audience ever, and they gave it their best.
These New Year's Day concerts are always distinguished by little eccentricities, musical "features," and in-jokes, and this time around the crowd got a taste of two now-obscure instruments, the triple harp and sopranino recorder. A triple harp deploys three sets of strings to cover the notes that in modern harps are handled by pedal-work - thus performing on it is a special technical challenge; but beyond that, like many period works, it has its own hauntingly delicate timbre: it seems to be literally speaking to us from several centuries ago. Pearlman chose to showcase it with a great piece, Handel's Harp Concerto in B-flat (which more people know from its translation to the pipe organ). Harpist Barbara Poeschl-Edrich played with clarity (no small feat!), and an exquisite sense of musical architecture, though perhaps a bit dryly, I thought (but then a truly singing line is the trick with this instrument).
Next came an even greater musical monument - Bach's famous Double Violin Concerto. Here, perhaps, was where one could most argue with the brisk Boston Baroque manner - not because of its speed, I suppose (were violinists Christina Day Martinson and Julie Leven really that much faster than other performers I've heard? I'm not sure) but rather for the fact that a certain expressiveness or lyricism seemed to be lost in the players' attack. Again, you can argue about the level of lyricism appropriate to Bach - I just left wanting more, especially from the gorgeous Largo, and I know these ladies can supply it.
The program wrapped with two less rich, but still dazzling, offerings from Vivaldi. The first, his Concerto in A minor for Sopranino Recorder, proved bewitching, and featured a diving, dazzling turn from virtuoso Aldo Abrau (who I swear must have an extra lung) on what Pearlman aptly called "the hummingbird of recorders." Next came crowd favorite Mary Wilson, who wrapped her glowing soprano (if not her best diction) around Vivaldi's curious motet "Nulla in mundo pax sincera" ("In the world there is no genuine peace,") which disconcertingly delivers a melancholy lyric in an uplifting musical setting, and crowns it with truly sublime "Alleluia!"
There's always a little extra surprise at the end of these concerts, and this time it turned out to be a period-instrument rendering of "Glitter and Be Gay," from Bernstein's Candide, with Wilson beaming center stage as Cunegonde. Maybe I'm just drunk on Candide these days, but I thought the instrumentation sounded fabulous (and Pearlman conducted with spirit), which made me think that an entirely-period-instrument version of the whole show could be quite intriguing (how about it, Mary Zimmerman?). And Wilson had a fine time with the schizophrenic laughter-and-tears, sympathy-now-satire mode of the lyrics, and of course her voice has a richness you rarely hear on the musical-theatre stage. It was a final triumphant touch to what was a truly gay and glittering soirée.