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Hogwood's lackluster conducting trivializes Requiem

HANDEL & HAYDN SOCIETY

Conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

Carole Haber, soprano soloist.

Works by Mozart.

Symphony Hall, Oct. 4, 8 pm.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

CHRISTOPHER HOGWOOD OPENED the new Handel & Haydn Society season, showing that he promises Boston another undistinguished year of pleasant, but ultimately boring, "music to pick your nose by."

The problem with Hogwood's Boston performances is that his core of generally high-caliber musicians gets precious little out of their work with him, and this rubs off on the audience. The music often sounds elegant, but rarely has any substance or appears other than bland: rather like a polyester suit, it seems adequate from a distance, but dull at close range.

The concert opened with Mozart's Symphony No. 40. True, one expected a lean sound from a small original-instruments ensemble, yet when Roger Norrington conducts his original instruments London Classical Orchestra in late Mozart symphonies, the music jumps to life. With Hogwood at the helm, there is nothing revealing, elevating or -- for that matter -- Mozartean.

The symphony opened at a fast clip, the first movement pushed into an unaesthetic shapeless stew. The Andante brought pleasant, but rather obvious playing, with none of the sense of re-discovery Norrington gives to a performance. The final movements ran on briskly, and with some nice windborne turns of phrase. But they were bereft of the type of insight or sympathy needed to translate the essence of the music from the score to the listener. Where were those feelings of quintessentially Mozartean longing which, in becoming elation, bring revelation? Where was the grandeur of conception carried in simplicity of structure? It was lost in the mechanical movements of a clockwork conductor, out of touch with the truth that is Mozart.

The Requiem followed in a like vein. Music ranging from windswept turbulence to ecstatic calm was delivered with an almost uniform listlessness. The soprano soloist, Carole Haber, sang colorfully at times, and there was striking solo trombone work in the Tuba mirum. There were a few moments of suspense, too, in the Lacrimosa. But the sluggishness of the Rex tremendae left it without power, the Confutatis maledictus had about as much zest as generic baked beans and the concluding Communio petered out into nothingness, leaving a feeling of emptiness and disappointment.

Give the Handel & Haydn Society a miss this season: there are better ways to spend both your dollars and your time.