New Orchestra Refined and SensitiveNew Orchestra of Boston, Kresge Auditorium, Feb. 24; The Boston Cecilia, Jordan Hall, Feb. 23.
David Epstein's New Orchestra of Boston got off to a good start last year, but has now developed into an even more refined and sensitive instrument. Sunday's concert in Kresge Auditorium presented a varied program, and all was done with panache.
The evening started with Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The strings, strictly disciplined, exhibited enormous warmth and strength; one felt oneself continually submerged by overpowering waves of rich sound. A graceful viola solo by Eleftherios Eleftherakis provided added pleasure.
Precision was maintained for the a performance of Ives' Symphony No. 3 marked by a captivating exploration of the work's deep programmatic content. The contrast of first and second violins in the second movement and the thoughtful ending of the third movement remain particularly embedded in the mind.
The concert ended with Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, K. 219. The soloist, Ida Levin, showed considerable technical proficiency but, for the most part, produced a thin and ugly tone that failed to penetrate the profundities of Mozart's music. If one could move one's attention to the orchestral accompaniment, though, there was plenty to provide delight.
The taut opening of the piece brought excitement to the air; and the playfulness of strings and winds provided a sensation that was at once utterly Classical and sublimely Mozartean. The strings, though caught in one slight rough patch, were particularly brilliant, providing close but subtle support for the soloist.
The second movement, Adagio, provided a beautifully pensive orchestral opening, spoiled somewhat by the flat and unsatisfying entry of the soloist. The dull solo opening to the concluding Tempo de Menuetto was met with the grace and charm the evening had led us to expect from the Orchestra, and perhaps this inspired the soloist to inject a bit more feeling into her playing, for toward the end she came alive, at last showing a care for coloration and detail that enabled her to augment her impeccable technique with an insight that gave us a glimpse at the inner Mozart.
The Boston Cecilia celebrated the 300th birthday of Handel in Jordan Hall last Saturday night. The Utrecht Te Deum which opened the concert was done with considerable power; the chorus, in particular, drew strength from its clarity and cohesion. There were some problems of balance, though, which were to hamper the choral works the evening through: The orchestra was much too loud relative to the chorus, and not infrequently drowned its sound.
We switched, next, to the Court of Solomon, to hear an excerpt from Handel's oratorio of that name. The choral rendition of From the censer curling rise was lively, dwelling particularly delightfully on the onomatopoeic qualities of the word "happy." We then heard the tale of Solomon's wisdom where he determines who of two claimants is the rightful mother of a baby by commanding that the baby be cut in half; the true mother shows her identity by willing that the baby be given to the other woman rather than see it die.
Nancy Armstrong sang this role, and did so with great poignancy. Her voice, emotive but musically pure, spoke directly of grief and quickly drew us to her side of the argument.
The trio section began with angry storm-ridden strings, then hushing their pain to gently plead a mother's cause. The harpsichord provided evocative ornamentation for the rival woman's sharp and flighty attempt at claim. Susan Larson sang the role with rage, clipped phrasing speaking of falsehood, calculated vindictive words pouring from her mouth like venom.
Armstrong returned to sing Can I see my infant gored simply but heart-rendingly, the anguish in the orchestra framing the suffering in her voice. "Take him all," she sang with a mournful emphasis on all; "but spare my child," she continued, a subtle decoration on the word child sending a shiver down the spine.
The second half was dominated by solo arias by each of the evening's soloists, and each singer had something special to offer. Bruce Fithian sang Waft Her Angels, through the skies with much depth, moments of melancholy casting an especially illustrative light. And, after a buoyant opening nicely done by the orchestra, James Maddalena sang Non t'inganni la speranza from Lotario at a lively pace.
Sergio Pelacani showed himself to be a counter tenor capable of producing a clean, invigorating sound free of falsetto in an aria from Belshazzar, while Ray De Voll sang Where'er you walk with considerable beauty. Susan Larson's Pianger`o la sorte mia was projected with color, while an expansive Nancy Armstrong drew untold meaning from Will the sun forget to streak from Solomon, aided by wonderful oboe and flute solo work.
The orchestra keenly developed anticipation for the entry of the chorus in Zadok the priest, which was then sung with considerable drive despite the balance problems which once more marred the relations between chorus and orchestra. The sinfonia, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, was weakly played, though, lacking the sharp brilliance needed to inject life into this work. But the concert ended on a high note with an energetic choral rendition of Praise the Lord with harp and tongue, another excerpt from Solomon.