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B Baroque & Mary Wilson Revel in Bach & Handel


Mary Wilson emotes at Sanders (Kathy Wittman photo)

New Year’s Eve with Boston Baroque continued to bind rituals of the celebratory with the rites of musical thinking from luminaries Bach and Handel, as Sanders Theater once again witnessed the closing out 2017, this time with two gems, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 and Water Music Suite in F Major. Soprano Mary Wilson carried out an astonishing Gloria, that youthful work of Handel rediscovered in 2001, and since fast becoming a favorite.

Boston Baroque’s Sunday evening reveling in Bach and Handel rekindled royal pronouncements. Where much of the same tonal and harmonic language was in play, and the first appearances of the hunting horn turned orchestral participant particularly draws the two composers together, in other ways these two could not be more different.

Introducing the Brandenburg, Music Director Martin Pearlman wanted us to hear that transformation by pointing to the horns’ opening hunting calls cast in triplets, while the rest of the orchestra dominated with duplets. As the Concerto continued, the role of the horns would become integrated with the other instruments, imitating the violins, the oboes, even down to trilling.

The historical picture gleaned, Pearlman throughout gave too much prominence to the horns. And those horn trills tempted the treacherous. But it must be recalled that this instrument, while changing roles, remained all the while the same valve-less tubing of an authentic hunting horn.

After a somewhat uneven Allegro, the Adagio became a thing of beauty, the oboe of Gonzalo S. Ruiz and the violino piccolo of concertmaster Christina Day Martinson chimed faithfully with soothing as well as with ardent touches. The low strings hovering at first would then bring their own descending line more and more into view before retreating. The finely timed phrases passed from group to group steered the Adagio still further to soulfulness.

Metrical in every way, the third movement found the surest footwork under Pearlman’s precise approach. Cadenced and musical, superbly mixing dance and concerto elements, Brandenburg No.1 and Boston Baroque rolled-on.

The final Menuetto’s refrains stayed fresh despite a few more of those prominent hunting signals. The first trio reveled in suave tones, and the Polonaise stepped more lightly than most iterations rendered by a pack of today’s diverse ensembles.

Soprano Mary Wilson and Boston Baroque strings sent Handel’s Gloria into a sky lit up with fireworks. The seven movement never let up over their 15 minutes, except for Wilson’s pleading in the Qui Tollis (“…have mercy upon us.”), an affect that somehow eluded me.

Wilson made real the splendorous galaxy of Baroque embellishment, delighting with her outstandingly guided melisma-upon-melisma and trilling. And her emotive breaths starting far back in the voice, emerged gradually, ultimately exploding meteor-like in full voice.

A high degree of Baroque fervor broke out among the strings. Here, the ensemble’s nuanced playing advanced drama, as Wilson, Pearlman and orchestra held this listener in rapturous captivity.

Each New Year’s Eve and Day, Pearlman apparently aims for music appropriate to the season; hearing Handel’s summery Water Music Suite in F Major, HWV348 on one of the most frigid wintry evenings, disrupted our seasonal bearings. This festive suite intended for the British royalty and summer days originally placed players on barges in the Thames. Pearlman remarked, “What an impression it must have made on those who never before had heard hunting horns in an orchestra.”

The challenges for the “new” horns in the Water Music were evident in this performance. That being said, the 11 movements flourished from the crispiness of the French-styled Overture, the supremely serenely offered Air, the brightly tuneful Bourrée, the jubilantly accented Hornpipe dance, to Boston Baroque’s inclusive masterful reveling. “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, an encore recognizing Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, brought laughter and happy applause. One could almost imagine the coming thaw on this truly enjoyable and gratifying celebration of ending and beginning.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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  1. Attending our 18th (we deliberately missed the two one act Mozart operas of 2009) New Year’s Eve at Sanders with the Boston Baroque, we were disappointed with the Bach Brandenburg, possibly because of the “uneven” first movement, thrilled by Mary Wilson’s singing of Gloria (I just ordered her recorded version on a CD), and perhaps have heard the Water Music once too often. Wilson’s return for the Bernstein song was the second highlight. How nice to read the review and discover it’s written by an old colleague. With David Patterson and Lloyd Schwartz, UMass Boston does have claim to outstanding musicologists.

    Comment by martin.quitt — January 3, 2018 at 8:49 am

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