Without entirely exchanging my reviewer’s mantle for a booster’s cap, I can report with pleasure that the 49-year-old Monadnock Music has commenced its summer festival in very fine fettle. Board President Amy Knight and new Managing Director Christopher Sink began the proceedings with optimistic reports on the health of the organization before Artistic Director Gil Rose lifted his baton. From the downbeat on Saturday it was clear once again that Rose knows how to assemble an ensemble. The sound of the 34 young, accomplished players in the hospitable Peterborough Town House was articulate, lithe, secure, balanced, and exciting, with a cooperative sense of listening inward. Taking as an augury of the rest of the MM season, this suggests frequent visits to the coming, interesting programs in charming settings. The calendar is here.
The New Hampshire hills were alive with the sound of pops—of the elevated sort that the Boston Pops no longer offers on the Esplanade. Rose gave us a lively and generous program of Mendelssohn: his Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Violin Concerto in E Minor, The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), and Symphony No. 4, Italian In something of a travelogue, the composer transported us on the wings of fairies to Athens, in the arms of violinist Tess Lark to a floating island of absolute music, on a windborne ship to a rugged Scottish island, and by deluxe coach to sunny Italy.
Over his sadly brief career from his first precocious masterpieces, the Octet at age 16, the Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at age 17, to his completion of incidental music to the same Shakespeare play 17 years later, there was a remarkable symmetry. The scherzoing good fairies never deserted him, nor did the refined taste and good manners that informed his entire oeuvre.
The winds began the overture with patient anticipation, the stings flitted with unanimous bright quickness (the 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 disposition allowed this) before the first tutti arrived with well-articulated and satisfying saturation. Finding great nuance and color, and maybe even a sound world that Mendelssohn would have recognized, Rose left us wanting the entirety of the composer’s incidental music, and maybe even the play. I vote for a re-recording of the soundtrack of the 1935 film adaptation by Rheinhardt, Dieterle, and Korngold here.
In the Violin Concerto, Rose and his players took their cues from Tessa Lark, whose poignant, lyrical outpourings they supported with great drama and subtlety. Lark’s execution and the orchestra responses were invariably striking, surprising and apt. Her cadenza encompassed even tone across the instrument’s range with the entire arsenal of virtuosic effects always in service to the music. It was an especial pleasure to watch the give and take between concertmistress Laura Frautschi and Lark. Altogether this was a performance that banished all negative expectations of provincial musicmaking. It would have been warmly received on the most demanding stage.
One could hardly imagine the Schumann Rhenish Symphony or Smetena’s Moldau without the existence of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) Op 26. For water music it took the genre a long way from Handel’s or Schubert’s examples (much as we admire them). Rose dispensed with romanticized accretions (no sumptuous portamenti) in favor of a careful architecture built around details of articulation and refined dynamics.
The traversal of the Italian Symphony gave us cause to revel rather than take notes. Led by the almost inerrant horns, the winds were glorious and the strings lustrous and impeccable as Rose gave shape to the drama. The players (not to neglect that management that assembled and nurtured them) well and truly earned our thanks. I recognize them by name here. When the fourth movement returned us to the colors and affect of the earlier “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture, we felt we had come home.