The biggest round of applause should go to gambist Zoe Weiss and harpsichordist Dylan Sauerwald, the enterprising artistic and music directors of Helios, and concertmaster Scott Metcalfe, who kept the conductorless period orchestra elegantly and energetically together. Helios has announced their next production — the North American premiere of Cavalli's comedy Artemisia, for the 2012-2013 season. I'll be on the lookout for it.
Bramwell Tovey with the BSO
The celebrated Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly was supposed to have led a rare performance of Mendelssohn's large choral cantata Lobgesang (usually translated Hymn of Praise but literally "praise-song") with the BSO last week, but he was advised by his doctors not to fly, and so he was replaced by Bramwell Tovey, the English-born music director of the Vancouver Symphony, who made a big impression leading Porgy and Bess at Tanglewood last summer.
Lobgesang was written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, so the piece is filled with references to dark and light, the illumination that reading a printed book can offer, especially if that book is the Bible. The text is all biblical quotations, but mostly not eloquent or memorable ones. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus excelled in its jubilant outpourings, and soprano Camilla Tilling and tenor John Tessier and especially soprano Carolyn Sampson made virtuous contributions.
Tovey led with eagerness and energy, though this is clearly not a piece that means as much to him as it does to Chailly, who has recorded it twice, in two different versions. My only reservation about Tovey came in the opening three-movement, purely instrumental Sinfonia, which for me has the best music in the piece — the music that sounds most like Mendelssohn (especially his Scottish Symphony). In the second movement, a haunting song in G-minor (in 6/8 time almost a dance) bumps into a big chorale that sounds very much like Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." But Tovey didn't dramatize, or make a point, out of this confrontation between these two opposing musical ideas.
Since the concert I attended was on one of the BSO's "UnderScore" evenings, which includes spoken comments from the stage and a substantial reception afterwards, we were welcomed by violist Edward Gazouleas, a 21-year veteran of the BSO, who then introduced Tovey, who, after a viola joke, gave an engaging talk (which included another viola joke) about the piece and its perpetual joy, and emphasized the importance of thinking of this piece as a "Song" rather than as a "Hymn." And then it sang.