Was paradise espied within the cosmos? The beloved Charles Dutoit led a BSO augmented by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Voices Boston in an unforgettable journey. Berlioz’s Resurrexit and Dutilleux’s La nuit étoilée: Timbres, espace, mouvement certainly charged the air. Then in the titanic Te Deum, the tenor of Paul Groves shone exquisitely, yet one wondered if there were uncertainty about the sound in the hall among the hundreds of bonding performers.
Resurrexit was the one movement from Berlioz’s Messe solennelle that escaped being burned, not long after the 20-year-old had completed the work. That it was worth saving is undeniable, and that its performance was worth hearing is understatement. The opening crescendo, launched as a shooting star, left this already expectant listener breathless.
There was, though, nothing remotely resembling cold space in Dutoit’s interpretation, or more accurately, rebirth. TFC followed that crescendo with impeccably bright injections, “And He rose again on the third day.” With crystal clarity the BSO brass intoned, “The trumpet, spreading its wondrous sound, calls everyone before the throne.”
Great exhilaration came in the rising joy-filled refrain “Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,” as the rebirth propelled us higher. Forcefully syncopated Amens, now quickly veering off tonal course then as quickly getting back in the groove with final fanfares, made for a rare paradisiacal voyage.
Further and further beyond now into Nébuleuse and Constellations in Henri Dutilleux’s The Starry Night, performed to mark the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Even without the visual connections, which Dutilleux later makes with stellar phenomena, and even more with Van Gogh’s iconic painting, there was no denying the utter magnificence of this music. Actually, Timbres, espace, mouvement was the original title of the 18-minute work of a mature Dutilleux, the middle movement composed later, renamed Interlude. So much for titles.
Darkly shimmering swirls from Robert Sheena’s English horn stood out. Pulsations beamed from a perfected wind section. Solar winds wafted from the precision-bent microharmonization of the cellos and basses (the violins and violas absented from this score). Dutilleux continued composing his way through deeper and deeper space(s), turning timbres into galaxies, and rediscovering movements, perhaps unsurprisingly, via his predecessor and naturalist Claude Debussy. And with the large percussion section, how more integrated into this space-scape could any such usually noisy entity be! Astonishing uniting tones gave still greater cohesiveness, rooting one firmly in the past and committed to the future—or at least to the present. While this extraordinarily beautiful and dramatic piece tells us what is way out there, way out does not become far out.
The 12 cellists played the Interlude into sublimity. With the ultimate burst of another huge uniting tone, as if we had come upon gravity, the magnificence just could not end, and lingered long after.
Facing captivated listeners, Dutoit seemed to be looking out to the heavens, as if acknowledging the music’s creator, the late Henri Dutilleux. Taking the podium before Timbres…, the conductor blew a kiss to the cello section, or might it have been right at Martha Babcock, associate principal leading the dozen.
One has to wonder about the first performance of Hector Berlioz’s colossal Te Deum. Some 900 participated at St. Eustache, under the composer’s direction. Sadly, given the heavily populated stage, the Te Deum did not fare well in Symphony Hall, at least not at my seat (Or P8). Hopefully, we will receive positive responses from some of those whose resounding bravos were breaking out a nanosecond after the final notes.
Paul Groves’s beautifully spiritualized tenor rang out strongly, he and Berlioz’s setting of Te ergo quaesumus matching up in miraculous style and empathy. You might have thought, as I did, that he was singing right to you.
Outside such moments as the angelic Sanctus in Tibi Omnes and the shouted Christes in Christe rex gloriae, there was a massiveness that had this Te Deum all too often leaning precariously on the brink of unintelligibility. Berlioz’s bigness was too much for the place. What else can I say than that it was a disappointment being unable to discern more fully the wonders of Berlioz, the BSO, and the supreme efforts of the choristers? Could this have been a result of logistics, the spatial arrangement Berlioz intended? Berlioz instructed that the two adult choruses be at opposite ends, with the children’s in the middle. It was even difficult to see the children.
The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, guest conductor James Burton, and Voices Boston, artistic director Steven Lipsitt, sounded well-prepared.