No more than 16 instrumentalists carried Baroque authenticity into a meditative state virtually free of life’s stresses in the 21st century, especially at this time of year. Dutch conductor and cellist Jaap ter Linden summoned up rare energetic progression from Manfredini through Handel, Muffat, Bach and Corelli, composers all from the Baroque era. Whether listeners were familiar or not with their music, Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on Thursday night, December 17, made the connections.
Through continuous movement and with variation upon variation of accent and volume of musical sound, these Baroque pieces talked, sang and danced. The experience was somewhat like observing the solid passing to the vapor state—miraculous chemistry. Connections, or better, dynamic relationships, were what this small orchestra delivered.
A Christmas Concerto by Francesco Manfredini (1684-1762), though unfamiliar to me, came across as warm, friendly, and soothing by way of two Largo movements and an Allegro that seemed more like one of the Largos. In retrospect it was an ingenious way to begin the unusually well-planned program gently leading back into that era.
The final movement from Armonico Tributo, Sonata v in G Major by Georg Muffat (1653-1704), not coincidentally concluding the first half of the program and preceding the intermission, further elevated the listener’s meditative state of mind. The continuously changing fourteen-minute Passacaglia was entrancing through H & H’s utterly focused performance, full of precision and musical take on Muffat’s intriguing writing. Expecting thunderous applause from the audience, I was taken aback by the subdued although clearly appreciative response. Maybe they, too, had left today’s noisiness and its busy-ness behind, as had I.
Behavioral patterns of the Baroque concerto grosso moved up several notches in Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, op. 3, no.2 by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Baroque oboists Stephen Hammer and Marc Schachman and bassoonist Andrew Schwartz changed the color of the string ensemble with edgeless rounds of ever-so-inviting sounds. Concertmaster Daniel Stepner and Principal second violinist Linda Quan, here as well as throughout the concert, volleyed imitation upon imitation in impeccable stereophonic fashion from their stage left and stage right positions.
The meditative state never really faded during intermission despite abundant conversation in the lobby. Suite (Overture—as the composer called it) no. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) picked up where the Muffat left off. This really was very effective planning. And just as everywhere else on the program, every instrument could be heard all the time, the harpsichord included. Here, the flute appeared to shape the dynamic level with all other instruments performing up to or just below it in volume creating wonderful lightness, an enlightening transparency. Baroque flute soloist Christopher Krueger stood amidst the orchestra producing finely balanced unisons with the orchestra, departing on solo shots with ease, his articulation of the dance rhythms altogether fetching.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor Op. 6, No. 8, “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) closed with a Pastoral. We were coming to the end of our meditation. As he did throughout, Jaap ter Linden, smilng often at the small orchestra’s members, conducted them with a nod or gesture from the left hand when freed from playing his cello. All the orchestra was in continual movement, their bodies shifting with the stroking of their bows. A drawn-out ritardando rested on a delicate G major chord leaving us fully relaxed and completely fulfilled.