Hogwood's H&H performance of Clemenza inspiring
HANDEL & HAYDN SOCIETY
La Clemenza di Tito
Conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
Symphony Hall, Jan. 17 & 19.
THE BOLAND-DOWDALL DUO
19th century parlor music.
Goethe Institute, Boston, Jan. 18.
By JONATHAN RICHMOND
FOLLOWING THE DISMAL SHOWING of so many recent concerts of the Handel & Haydn Society I had already planned on a headline of "Sextus reprieved; Hogwood to be thrown to the lions, instead." Friday's at once gripping and humane account of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito made it clear, however, that both H & H and Hogwood can reach the highest level of artistic attainment; it will be a performance to both remember and emulate.
Clemenza tells the story of the legendary clemency of the Emperor Titus. Titus is actually rather a sissy, and his constant forgiving tendencies deprive his countrymen of the pleasure of watching their transgressing fellow citizens being ripped apart by the lions.
Too many of the characters have virtuous aspirations, in fact, but Mozart has a brilliant baddie in the form of Vitelia. She
gets passed over twice by Titus in his choice of wife, decides to have him done away with for spite, and uses the rather overdone crush Sextus has on her to try to get her nasty work done. Titus, of course, ends up forgiving them both.
Lorraine Hunt, as Sextus, put in the strongest of the evening's solo performances. As the opera opens we see her singing with airs of a Cherubino: innocent, love-lost and under Vitelia's complete control. Hunt conveyed (completely undeserved!) feelings of affectionate love to Vitelia with tenderness. "Parto; ma tu, ben mio" was perhaps especially beautiful sung and heartfelt, the orchestra smooth and soft, if inflected with a piquantly-urgent clarinet solo.
Hunt's voice became disembodied, pain projecting graphically as Sextus contemplates his treachery to Titus. Yet, having bid Vitelia farewell, there was an ecstasy of expression as Hunt sang of Sextus' "last sighs," the orchestra supporting her vocal calm with an eloquence that produced a forgiving balm that is quintessentially Mozartean.
Curtis Rayam was quite brilliant in the role of Titus, singing the part with elevating lyricism, yet underlining the weakness and indecision of the character being played. Somehow, Rayam's Titus is not quite a real person until he is thrown into anguish at the thought of the death of his
treacherous friend Sextus, who he clearly loves a lot more than the various women he considers marrying.
Vitelia was powerfully sung by Martina Musacchio. But while Musacchio strongly painted Vitelia being calculating and bileful, she was at her most powerful in the affecting Non pi`u di fiori, which follows Vitelia's decision to admit her guilt in the plot to kill Titus. With the orchestra bubbling like a brook behind her, Musacchio's singing cast a powerful spell here. Other solo parts were also strongly performed.
Choral singing, under the direction of John Finney, was rich, full-blooded and clear. Christopher Hogwood took his Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra to new levels of profundity, and did so subtly. Orchestral voices were individuated to telling effect: piquant wind instruments stood out against the ensnaring legato of the strings. The orchestra was perhaps the most important element in the storytelling, its deep but naturally-cast emotions speaking the truth that is Mozart's music, and refreshing and inspiring the soul in the process.
THE CAMBRIDGE SOCIETY FOR EARLY Music built on its reputation for providing some of the most charming as well as unusual musical soir'ees last weekend with a program
of 19th-century parlor music from the Boland-Dowdall Duo. Janice Boland and John Dowdall are based in Iowa, but travel around both the United States and Europe with their flute, guitar and no end of grace and wit. Saturday's concert was at the Goethe Institute in Boston, the perfect setting for intimate music-making, and much enjoyed by all.
The evening began with Giuliani's Grande Serenade, and the wistful flute tone of Boland and pert but gentle guitar of Dowdall attracted the audience's affections very easily. An oddity for the flute by an egomanaic Englishman, Charles Nicholson, was next performed by Boland, and provided much entertainment with its glides, accented trills, finger vibrato and other funny sounds.
The first half ended with a delightful performance of arias from Rossini's Barber of Seville, with Boland as singer on flute, and Dowdall providing the orchestra with his guitar. Rosina's number, Una voce poco fa, was most catching, the sly wilfulness of a determined young woman captured seductively by Boland's flute, while Dowdall made his guitar go a lot further than one might imagine to cover all other parts on the score.
The second part of the program, with works by Kuhlau, Mozart and Donizetti was equally pleasurable, and was capped with an Irish air delightfully done as an encore.