If music be the food of love, then Tatyana Dudochkin served up a rather affectionate portion in New England Conservatory’s “Shakespeare 450” at Jordan Hall Sunday. Never mind that the composer honored was William Shakespeare, poet and playwright. The range of material his work has inspired, and the talent who here presented it, showed this honor worthy of him.
Along with fine musicianship, the concert had the pleasure of feeling like a large family party. Not only did daughter Yelena Dudochkin contribute a shimmering “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, but many others on the program were old friends drawn from NEC faculty and students. The audience, who included a large number of Russian speakers, did its part with armloads bouquets to present to both Dudochkins.
Delicacies great and small abounded. The NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff got the evening off to strong start with Prokofiev’s majestic suite from Romeo and Juliet. Solid work from the horn section ignited the strings, who overcame shyness early in the piece to provide deeply felt incisiveness in Tybalt’s death scene, where it was needed. Wolff called for the winds to take a well-deserved section bow.
Soprano Jennifer Caraluzzi, accompanied by lutenist Victor Coelho, redirected the program to Shakespeare’s own times with John Dowland’s “Flow my tears”: sweetness, stillness and pathos. This was followed by Aldo Abreu, thrilling on soprano recorder accompanied by Frances Conover Fitch on harpsichord, in van Eyck’s “Pavan Lachrymae.” Abreu’s recorder and Coelho’s lute are waiting for a concert of their own.
Although most of the dozens of operas listed in Groves which are based on the bard’s plays are mostly forgotten, the excerpts we heard were from more familiar ones. Tenor Adam Klein made a strong case for Gounod’s inevitability with his fine “Ah, lève-toi, soleil” and a duet with Yelena Dudochkin. Ditto for the Commonwealth Lyric Theatre’s chorus from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict “Viens, viens de l’hyménée Victime fortune,” conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya and ably accompanied by Esther Ning Yau.
Klein returned later for a passionate “Dio! Mi potevi” from Verdi’s Otello, as did the Commonwealth Lyric Theatre with choruses from Verdi’s Falstaff, and a spotlight on young Clark Rubinshtein’s pure-voiced alto singing Schubert’s “An Sylvia”
It was that kind of an evening: lots of mixing and matching, and always one more surprise waiting. Most notably, the NEC flute and string quartets performed the “Scherzo” and “Wedding March” in arrangemetns from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The flutes especially were arresting, bringing ethereal freshness to such a frequently heard piece, while the strings conveyed the charm of a palm court.
Where music was not enough, the concert offered words as well. Swedish actor Jonas Nerbe presented a scene from a one-man musical play by Jan-Erik Sääf about Shakespeare, titled William. The scene in question recounts the first performance of Richard III. Nerbe captured the uncertainties of Shakespeare the playwright, the insecurities of Shakespeare the actor, and the omnipotent evil of Richard, all in a Russell Crowe-like baritone way that was immediately intriguing. I wanted to hear more.
Kingly honors of the night went to NEC president Tony Woodcock, who, wrapped in a green satin cape and brandishing a sword, mixing Henry V’s speech on St. Crispin’s Day with Pythonesque shtick, led the audience in shouting: “Cry, God, for Harry, England and St. George.” Arriving to a fanfare, and noting that “I used to be Tony Woodcock, but I got promoted,” he sensibly mentioned nothing about giving up his day job.