Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A mostly glorious Gloria

Conductor Harry Christophers (Photo: Stu Rosner)

I've dawdled over reviewing the Handel and Haydn Society's rendition of Vivaldi's Gloria (which took its final bow over a week ago) largely because I couldn't really wrap my mind around the evening that surrounded it. The core of the concert, at least, was clear: Harry Christophers had built a program of Vivaldi and Handel (who were roughly contemporaries) around two major works which are, well, roughly similar (the Gloria and the Foundling Hospital Anthem), and which re-work previous themes from each composer's respective oeuvres - and which even relate to two roughly equivalent charitable institutions (Venice's Pio Ospedale della Pietà and London's Foundling Hospital for the Care and Maintenance of Exposed and Deserted Young Children).

So far, so good - it seemed as if the concert should come together in some resonant way. But somehow it didn't, perhaps because, as you may have noticed, I had to say "roughly" about five times in the preceding paragraph. At any rate, for whatever reason, all the implicit parallels in the program (which was actually quite cleverly structured) didn't really illuminate one another. It probably didn't help that guest soprano Nathalie Paulin didn't sing in either of the main events (she sang introductions to them instead), and that her style didn't quite map to that of H&H's soloists, nor the many other guests on the program: H&H's Young Women's Chamber Choir was on hand for the Gloria, and they were joined by the Young Men's Chorus for the Foundling Hospital Anthem; even more talented young singers, from H&H's Collaborative Youth Concert Choruses, crowded the stage for the opening chorale, "Let their celestial concerts all unite" (from Handel's Samson) - a rousing piece with a very apt title in this case!

Of course what H&H was going for was a surfeit of riches, rather than a sense of fuzzy focus - and truth be told, there were wonderful moments scattered throughout opening night.  The aria from Samson was one of these - it was not, perhaps, as smooth as glass, but it was rousing and brimming with the energy of its youthful singers, which is always a good thing. Just as entrancing, in a different key, was the period orchestra's rendering - particularly in the interplay between winds and strings - of the delicately lilting, yet curiously sombre, Overture to Saul (also Handel). Almost as beguiling was Vivaldi's well-known Sinfonia from Dorilla in tempe (RV 709), which boasts ravishing second and third movements (and wraps with a quote from "Spring" from The Four Seasons).

The headline acts, however, were a bit more variable. I must confess that despite the enduring popularity of the Vivaldi Gloria, I always find it (after a wonderful opening) something of a patchwork. Still, several of H&H's soloists contributed elegant and committed performances. Margot Rood's silvery soprano  was an intriguing complement to the yearning song of Stephen Hammer's oboe, as was Margaret Lias's alto to the lyrical line of Guy Fishman's cello. And the chorus was in fine form throughout - particularly in "Qui tollis peccata mundi, " and their compelling reading of "Quonium tu souls sanctus."

The Foundling Hospital Anthem was likewise a series of glittering moments that somehow never found cohesive form (but then perhaps that's part of what this anthem is all about, as it was pulled together from earlier works as a benefit).  Here Margot Rood joined forces with soprano Brenna Wells for a sparkling duet, "The people will tell of their wisdom," and alto soloist Emily Marvosh was as striking as ever in "O God who from the suckling's mouth."  The piece concludes, somewhat improbably - but certainly rousingly - with an extended quote of the "Hallelujah" chorus, which Christophers conducted with less subtlety, but more punch, than I recall from his last Messiah.

Elsewhere, Canadian soprano Nathalie Paulin had to work hard to best some of these home-grown performances - and perhaps she didn't always succeed. Paulin certainly boasts a rich tone and elegant phrasing, but I felt she was somewhat unsure of what to do with Vivaldi's Ostro picta, armada spina (RV 642) - an intriguing meditation on the fleeting beauty of a rose - and so settled for restrained reverence as a fallback.  She was better in Handel's warmer "Salve Regina"; her lower range is blessed with a robust color that you feel might turn bawdy if she ever let rip, but which can also suggest notes of earthly tragedy - and these echoed throughout this fervent prayer for mercy from the Blessed Mother. It was just another memorable moment in an evening whose structure perhaps never quite cohered, but which was studded with small glories.

No comments:

Post a Comment