Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s opening night at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River had the peopled Esplanade waving arms in time to Verdi’s seasonal music and offering its biggest applause for the singing of Sonia DuToit Tengblad. An American composition, Blue Planet, was most welcome outdoor summer fare.
The setting on this DCR (District of Conservation and Recreation) space from one view, the sparkling Charles, wafting breezes, picnics on the lawn, the sun setting over the river, accompanied by a fine orchestra appeared idyllic, made for a harmonious scenario of times past. Conversely, from another view, the streaming Boston traffic, rumbling motorcycles and honking horns on adjacent Storrow Drive, the electronic amplification, the large listening area, competing with the well-prepared efforts of Landmarks’ orchestra contributed to a dialectic emblamatic of our time.
Some of the selections on Wednesday’s “Music for a Summer Evening” played out richly in the open air. With “Seventeen Come Sunday” the first of three from the English Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan Williams came orchestral crispness, nationalistic stirring under the visually attractive baton of Music Director Christopher Wilkins. The second, softer and slower “My Bonny Boy” often suffered from unwanted traffic intrusion. The third, its melody referring to “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” regained an optimistic bent from a fully committed ensemble.
Another good choice, Summer Evening of Frederick Delius, here played like a Hollywood orchestra—always rounded beautifully in tune and time with music and mood—became a perfect soundtrack for a scene such as that on our left, the wanted and too often missed nature.
The three-minute Blue Planet, an orchestral work expressing This would-be vineyard earth has lasted long,/And for a moment in its history/We are but stewards of its care…would be adopted as the World Wildlife Funds’ theme. Boston composer Peggy Stuart Coolidge penned this sumptuous picturesqueness with grand orchestral sweeps, percussive punctuations, and brass panoramas all movingly drawn by the forces. Wilkins organically illustrated all via his well-appointed directing.
Samuel Barber’s extraordinary intimate Americanisms in his setting of James Agee’s prose seemed not best suited for this outdoors venue. About a football field away in reserved seating, that closeness of rocking gently and talking gently…a frailing of fire…rough wet grass… was not to be. Yet, though almost hidden, if one shut out Boston’s summer of 2017 city sounds and amplification’s confining nasal-ness and worked at focusing on the “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” there was plenty evidence this masterpiece was given ample understanding and loving care by soprano Sonia DuToit Tengblad, Landmarks, and Wilkins.
Landmark seasoned Giuseppe Verdi’s Les Vêpres siciliennes:“Winter” and “Summer” to excellent midsummer effect. From upbeat dances purposed to create warmth on a cold day to lazy drones underlying summer’s sillier, breezier tunefulness. With Landmarks lightening up its show came a bit of dancing and even more smiles from those sitting, stretched out, and walking around the verdant grounds.
At times, the straightforward Enigma Variations of Edward Elgar could clearly cut through. But the more weaving textures and thought provoking structures the less impact Landmark could make, despite its obvious grasp on the indefatigable warhorse. The dark minor mode of the opening and closing of the theme, though overplayed, still did not connect well. The light major break in the middle of the theme, connecting as it did, is in itself tells how mixed the night was.
Variation IX “Nimrod” deserves bravos for meaningful energy and affective expressiveness that produced a tangible and intensely poignant climax—and a triumph!
Making my way closer to the Hatch Shell during the remaining variations, and finally standing near one of the large speaker arrays, I heard much more vividly the engaging immediacy of Landmark’s music-making and less of that fatiguing almost ever-present whoosh and rumble of Boston traffic.
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