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A Joyful Baroque Christmas with H+H


Amanda Forsyth (file photo)

Clicking on a cyber music service for holiday favorites and coming up with a playlist of the expected and the unexpected could not have bettered what we heard, as Handel and Haydn Society’s “A Baroque Christmas” notched some pretty high rankings in the celestial ether. Soprano Amanda Forsythe and violinist Aisslinn Nosky registered big hits. Vivaldi’s “Winter” and an excerpted “Magnificent” aired by a children’s chorus also topped out.

A strong turnout of revelers at Jordan Hall Thursday evening found themselves smoothed and soothed even with foreigners Johann Christoph Graupner [apparently unrelated to Gottlieb Graupner, Boston’s early composer, publisher, blackface-minstrel, and co-founder of the H and H Society] and Evaristo Felice Dall’ Abaco, and possibly Scarlatti (that is Alessandro, not Domenico), and Telemann.

Piece by piece, Ian Watson directed an ever more tantalizing playlist for part one that culminated in a cantata by J. S. Bach. After intermission, a much loved Corelli, his “Christmas Concerto” elated in more subdued ways. Next were A. Scarlatti and Telemann to bring to a close H+H’s holiday outing.

Watson, associate conductor of H+H, is featured on film soundtracks including Amadeus. Remember Salieri instructing Mozart to end his music with some oomph if he wanted bravos from his audiences. Telemann’s Passacaille almost did that to end the second half of the concert. But it took a fleeting encore (a Telemann fanfare) bursting with get-up-and-go and that oomph made by ripping, rolling kettledrums to play to Salieri—and the delighted audience.

The first half of this Baroque Christmas really did shape up. Shorter entries plainly heightened momentum. It did not take long to sense a kind of jazz/pop show with those toe-tapping Baroque beats at times swinging, driving, even grooving. And there were those magnificent melismas from Forsythe feeling like improvs.

Watson put us further at ease with a bit of informal commentary. It was amusing to learn of a few of the links in the evening’s programming. For one, Graupner’s and Telemann’s refusal of an offer to take the Leipzig post which allowed Bach’s famous entrée.

H+H Vocal Arts Program Concert Choir under Jennifer Kane and accompanied by Maria Rivera White on organ immediately shepherded us into the spirit of the season. What better way? Their Vivaldi-Magnificat selection exuded promise and lifted hearts in an aura of pureness.

Overture in D Major, GWV 424, Weihnachts (Christmas) of Graupner nudged the spirit along. H+H strings and continuo with pairs of oboes, trumpets, and kettledrums fashioned that exacting Baroque era flair.

With Sinfonia in D Major, Op. 6, No. 12 of Dall’Abaco, the concert’s momentum was bumped up another notch. The three-movement cooked with appetizing cadences, one old standby, the Phyrgian, set up happy H+H strings for an ear-catching romp through gladdening textures.

Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky (Matthew Marigold photo)

A Vivaldi favorite, “Winter” from The Four Seasons, saw some breathtaking pictorial and high-speed displays from the orchestra and soloist Aisslinn Nosky. Crackling ice and frightening wind effects from orchestra and soloist together came ever so close to creating a miracle on Gainsborough Street. After the first movement, revelers could not help themselves interrupting with their own displays of excitement. This prompted Nosky to remark, “We’ve never seen such a short winter!”

What could possibly follow? Bach’s Cantata 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen with international Baroque star Amanda Forsythe, that is what. Who will ever forget her smooth periodic vibrations, her well-tempered melisma singing, especially in duet with Jesse Levine’s trumpet—could there have been a closer match between these different instruments? This Bach unbelievably mounted a “Shout for joy to God in every Land.”

After intermission, Arcangelo Corelli’s well-known Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 8, Fatto per la note di natale continued the “mixed bag of seasonal music” as Watson described the musical celebration. Comeliness ensued with H+H strings deepening the mysteries of the season. Appearances of the bass to Pachebel’s Kanon could not escape any Baroque reveler’s ear.

Cantata pastorale per la Nativita di inostro Signore Geus Christo of Alessandro Scarlatti redirected momentum. The closer, Telemann’s Ouverture-Suite in D Major, TWV 55: D 18, puzzled because of its non-conformity with a Salieri close. Nevertheless, “joyful” the evening was.

The program will be repeated Sunday, December 16, 2018 at Jordan Hall.

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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