Jordan Hall, Friday, February 19, 8:00 pm
Claudio Monteverdi, Vespers of 1610
Martin Pearlman, conductor
Mary Wilson & Kristen Watson, sopranos
Derek Chester, Aaron Sheehan & Lawrence Jones, tenors
Sumner Thompson & Donald Wilkinson, baritones
As a 400th anniversary tribute to Monteverdi’s Vespers, Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque have returned to one of their signature pieces. Their history with the work goes back to their early years, and their 1997 recording remains one of the most highly respected. These performances, two at Jordan Hall and one at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York were an opportunity to hear Pearlman’s thoroughly researched and solid reading with a new crop of singers, most of whom are young performers from New England. Kristen Watson in particular I remember as one of many excellences in Aston Magna’s Purcell program two summers ago. Her rounded tone as well as her clean articulation, as well as her intelligence and wit, were truly memorable.
Above all Martin Pearlman has a firm grasp of how the disparate elements of the Vespers can fit together into a coherent whole, which in concert gives the impression of a unified work or event a liturgical event, although, like Bach’s B minor Mass it is a compilation of movements related to the the Blessed Virgin Mary in considerably diverse styles. In the limpid acoustics of Jordan Hall, the sizeable chorus, which changed positions for each movement, sounded full and rich, the soloists were present and in fine voice, and the orchestra full, even a trifle heavy, perhaps not as clear in texture and clean in attack as some other groups, for example the conductorless Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra. Boston Baroque has always performed with a conductor, namely Maestro Pearlman, and for this reason there is a hint of an older style of early music performance in their work. In comparison with some of the best conductorless groups in Europe and America, they sounded a trifle sluggish and heavy. On the other hand, the complex and diverse forces required by the Vespers almost require a conductor, and the Boston Baroque were at their best full-bodied and expressive.
The excellence of the solo singers was certainly one of the glories of this performance. Sopranos Mary Wilson and Kristen Watson, Derek Chester, tenor, and Sumner Thompson, baritone, stood out. In the “Duo Seraphim” the three tenors, all excellent, took places at opposite sides of the balcony and on center stage, achieving the antiphonal effect intended by Monteverdi. However, in Jordan Hall the harmonies between the voices were perfectly formed—which struck me as something of a phenomenon in a space other than an extremely reverberant church.
This fine performance under Martin Pearlman’s expert leadership was a satisfying revisitation of this difficult masterpiece, which is all too seldom heard.