Live and via livestreaming, Boston Baroque performed its annual New Year’s Eve Concert from WGBH’s Calderwood Studio. Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi came across from Aldo Abreu, Joseph Monticello, Amanda Forsythe and friends within that special fusion of period instruments and present-time sensitivity we have come to know from BB over five decades. No trumpets, no tympani, just strings and flutes in concertos pairing instruments. Telemann’s mating recorder and flute that featured bagpipe folk music of the Polish countryside “dressed in an Italian coat” perked Saturday night’s performance. Soprano Forsythe vocalized a concerto-like motet of Vivaldi adding vibrant colors to the celebration. Unlike Sanders, BB’s other venue, GBH’s studio brought audience and musicians closer together and at the end of the program lit up a curtain with images of fireworks.
Not everyone has as yet learned that Founder and Director Martin Pearlman won a prestigious award and BB received a significant matching gift. More on these later.
A small band of seven players appeared in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. Paired violists Jason Fisher and Sarah Darling led the way, admirably complementing each other. There is always wonderment over how performers can summon the limitless details called for phrasing Baroque repertoire. That a band of instruments can get together on this or that phrasing is one thing, and another thing for two fine soloists, such as these violists, who are under special scrutiny of the audience. Support from several still lower instruments—two viola da gambas, cello, and violone (bass)—was strong. Dark it was not, mysterious, intriguing yes, with Pearlman’s harpsichord often disappearing.
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, with Boston Baroque at full string strength, showed more in the way of that art of articulating those weaving linear structures of Bach. Joseph Monticello warmed the Ouverture’s fugal middle section as well as in the Rondeau and Polonaise. Pearlman’s fix on clarity and dance took real hold in the Rondeau. He carved an exceptional windup to the Bourrée; a genuine build preceded the gentle close.
Just as with his moderated performances, Pearlman’s friendly concert commentary has instructed as well as engaged. About the Telemann Concerto in E Minor for Recorder and Flute, Pearlman, being up close to such instruments, revealed “a subtle contrast of the sonorities of these two kinds of wooden flutes.” That contrast could be detected when Aldo Abreu, recorder; and Joseph Monticello, flute soloed, the former having a slight edge to the sound, the latter a velvetiness. So synced were they, you might think they were one and the same. The Largo-Allegro-Largo-Presto scheme by the Italian composer came to life with this extraordinary pairing at once exhibiting a gorgeous sound and a brilliant instrumental mastery. Pearlman and a full complement of strings were completely on their toes with the harpsichord often coming into prominence. The Presto movement with Polish bagpipe music written all over it became a smash hit.
As in past concerts, Aldo Abriu, looking a bit professorial, made nightingales out of both his soprano recorder and the tiny garklein or sopranissimo which he had pulled from his pocket. Two Dutch Renaissance compositions sang away in high-to-low call-and-answer chirping all to the listeners’ delight and amazement. Speaking of details, down to the very smallest and speediest would mesmerize.
It made good sense to conclude the celebratory concert with soprano Amanda Forsythe in Vivaldi’s “O qui coeli.” Pearlman informed us that this motet like Vivaldi’s others “have quite virtuosic vocal parts…where the writing can be almost like a violin concerto.” Forsythe beautified the slow second aria, Rosa quae mortur, (The rose that died) with winsome purity interlaced with operatic overtones. She elevated the fast-final aria, Alleluia, achieving a perfect equilibrium between the virtuosic and expressive, trills and vibrato intermingling fascinatingly.
Late last year we learned that “Boston Baroque’s Founding Music Director Martin Pearlman won the Yale University School of Music’s Samuel Simons Sanford Medal on September 8th at the School of Music’s Convocation ceremony. The medal is the most prestigious award conferred by the school, with past medal recipients including Aaron Copland, Robert Shaw, Pierre Boulez, and Yo-Yo Ma.”
“The award comes during Boston Baroque’s 50th season, a momentous milestone year for the organization and Music Director Martin Pearlman. As the founder and artistic leader of North America’s first permanent Baroque orchestra, Mr. Pearlman has been a vital voice in the American early music movement since the 1970s.”
More to celebrate, Boston Baroque has received a matching gift challenge, “A Partnership in Harmony” campaign up to a total of $1 million dollars. Stay tuned.