Thursday, May 13, 2010

Boston – May 2nd

Two great concerts today. First Bach’s G-major Mass at Marsh Chapel, Boston University, beautifully performed by the Chapel Choir and orchestra. There are some fine moments in this seldom-heard work, for example the fugue at the end of the Gloria at In gloria Dei Patris. I hadn’t been inside Marsh Chapel in over 50 years, and it was also satisfying to see that the place hadn’t changed in the slightest.

But the musical highlight of this trip was a Bach program at Symphony Hall with the Handel & Haydn Society directed by Harry Christophers. Two cantatas, two a cappella motets including the fiendishly difficult Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, a double violin concerto and the Fifth Brandenburg – in reality a trio sonata for violin, flute and harpsichord, with a string ensemble murmuring sweet nothings in the background. (It breaks for an absolutely insane, five-minute harpsichord solo extravaganza in the last movement – not really a cadenza, rather a virtuosic excursus inserted into the piece just for the sheer hell of it. What musicians those must have been at Kothen.)

The performance was absolutely flawless, in the best early music period practice, and Christophers’ direction was a revelation – he organizes Bach in larger phrases of 4-8 measures, which I’d never really heard anyone do before as effectively.

I sang with the H&H for two seasons in 1957 and 1958, when it was still a quasi- Victorian choral society. Now it is a small semi-professional chorus with a period orchestra, as good a Baroque performance ensemble as any in the world.

I was lucky enough to have a ticket in the second row center, placing me almost on stage among the musicians. Where do you get that for $35 in San Francisco!

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