The kids in the PALS Children's Chorus are especially sweet in Britten's exquisite lullaby, but they are also sometimes hard to hear. Countertenor John Gaston is convincing as regal Oberon, soprano Nadine Sierra less so as Tytania, his fairy consort. Bass-baritone Darren K. Stokes makes an imposing Theseus. In the crucial speaking role of Puck, Karim Sulayman is awfully big and clumsy for a woodland creature. And awfully arch. I'd call his performance more dickish than puckish.
Under Esther Nelson, BLO's artistic director, BLO has had a season full of promise but without real fulfillment as a season. Next season's repertoire sounds even more promising, as any season has to that includes Verdi (Macbeth) and the return of Peter Maxwell Davies's mysterious The Lighthouse. We live in hope.
No opera in Dawn Upshaw's Celebrity Series of Boston recital at Jordan Hall (with the fascinating pianist Stephen Prutsman), but practically everything else. This was not the usual sets of early music, German lieder, French chansons, etc., but a continuum (interrupted only by the intermission) of individual songs, in English, German, French, Italian, Galician Spanish, Russian, and Hungarian, and except for two songs each by Dowland and Schubert (not consecutive), no composers were repeated. The songs were connected only by theme — love (its joys and pains and loss), moonlight, sleep — and, elegantly, by key. Each new song became both a surprise and its own event. Upshaw was in terrifically good voice; her climactic high notes had a particular beauty and clarity. And Prutsman — a former rock musician and arranger for the eclectic Kronos Quartet, now an accompanist and international piano virtuoso — played with rainbows of colors, matching Upshaw's wide dynamic range and delicacy of articulation.
And what a spectrum of masterpieces, from the scene-setting opening of Purcell's "Music for a while" (what could be more appropriate?) to the final pair: "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (Venus's lament over contemporary lovelessness by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash) and Vernon Duke & Howard Dietz's haunting "This Love I Long For," a cabaret song from their 1944 flop Sadie Thompson. In between we got touching Haydn, sublime Schubert, sexy Debussy, a heavenly Monteverdi lullaby, and one of the most beautiful and complex pieces by Upshaw's friend Osvaldo Golijov, "Lúa descolorida" (a song he later inserted into his famous Pasión según San Marcos), which she poured her heart into.
At the Boston Philharmonic, Benjamin Zander invited the great Russian cellist 68-year-old Natalia Gutman, for a return visit and she delivered a stunning performance of Shostakovich's Second Cello Concerto (1966), her rich dark tones ideal for both Shostakovich's brooding, soulful lamentations (which Gutman gave a marvelously "vocal" quality) and antic, trippy playfulness (almost a kind of fiddling) in his dance-like (or is it march-like?) anti-militaristic ironies. (Is the Scherzo about a wedding or a war?) Zander and the orchestra (with remarkable harpist Martha Moor) provided an exhilarating context for this profound artist. She rewarded the audience's excitement with an encore: the moving Sarabande from Bach's C-major Suite for Unaccompanied Cello.