AIDS day for the people

Longwood Symphony at Jordan Hall, December 1, 2007
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  December 4, 2007
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Longwood Symphony

Introducing the Longwood Symphony Orchestra’s unusual World AIDS Day program — Silvestre Revueltas’s Sensemayá, the Coronation Scene from Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and Leos Janácek’s Glagolska mse (“Glagolitic Mass”) — last Saturday, LSO music director Jonathan McPhee talked about music as celebration and about the power of indigenous sounds. Mexican composer Revueltas finished Sensemayá in 1938; a long orchestral crescendo in a steady 7/8 plucked by the basses and boasting a solo for his beloved tuba, it’s been described as “the evil Mexican cousin of Ravel’s Boléro.” Here it offered up echoes of Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps and pre-echoes of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, the batonless McPhee dancing as lightly and easily on the podium as if the 7/8 were a waltz while giving the piece a human shape, Thomas Haggerty playing the tuba part with aplomb. More testimony to the power of the people followed in Boris Godunov’s Coronation Scene, where Boris vows to accept the tsar’s throne only with the consent of the narod, or Russian folk, even as he wonders whether he deserves to be the people’s choice. McPhee whipped the orchestra and Holly Krafta’s distinguished New World Chorale into a fervor without undermining the music’s chant foundation; bass Michael Prichard was an anguished Boris.

Czech composer Janácek wrote his 45-minute Mass, in Old Slavonic (“Glagolitic” refers to a Slavonic alphabet older than the prevailing Cyrillic), more as a tribute to national feeling than out of any strong religious impulse. Composed in 1926, for orchestra, chorus, soloists, and organ, it’s redolent of Poulenc (especially his Stabat Mater) and Stravinsky and Janácek’s own brassy Sinfonietta, which he’d written the year before. Janácek thought of the Bohemian woods as his church here; the piece is like a crying out of the people, as full of doubt as of faith. The solo parts, especially the soprano’s, can invite shrieking, but McPhee’s quartet — Marjorie Elinor Dix (a little light on her consonants), Mary Phillips, John Bellemer, and Gustav Andreassen — let the music prevail, John Zielinski was a demon of ebb and flow at the organ, and McPhee tightroped between thorny and lilting, reminding us that the people celebrate not just with music but also with dance.

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