The two usual commenters on our performance these days are the Boston Globe’s and the Boston Classical Review website. Both did not disappoint with what I felt were accurate and insightful reviews. Both caught on to the fact that, while this piece is magnificent in scale, its compositional form limits it. They both also noted that, while our Chorus performed quite well, we were still missing a certain something.
I will say that our Friday performance exceeded our Thursday one — no doubt because we became yet more comfortable with the technicalities of the music (entrances, dynamics, fugues) so we could throw more weight toward the emotional connection as well as the melodic lines, and not sound quite so harsh. I bet Saturday’s and Tuesday’s performances are even better! Assuming anyone comes to them — the hall was half empty again on Friday.
Last night Symphony Hall had many empty seats, whether due to the unusual repertoire or the prospect of another substitute conductor. It was a pity because Tovey led a swift and sure-footed performance of the work, largely true to its Romantic heft, but never at risk of collapsing beneath the weight of its own grandiloquence.
There were times one wished he managed transitions with a bit more dramatic flair or harnessed the work’s rhetorical force to greater cumulative effect, but there were pleasures to be found in the constitutive parts.
The Tanglewood Festival Chorus unleashed a robust and joyful noise at its first entrance, and by and large sustained its potent energy. […] The work ends without any grand Beethovian apotheosis, but last night the chorus still found plenty to celebrate in the arrival of dawn.
David Wright echoed some of these comments in his Boston Classical Review:
Even a beautifully polished and committed performance by the orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and three capable vocal soloists under the direction of Bramwell Tovey (substituting for the indisposed Riccardo Chailly) couldn’t quite make the case for this musical miscellany as a coherent symphonic work.
The Tanglewood Festival Chorus sang with its usual precision, but its sound sometimes went uncharacteristically hard and blatant, as if it were trying to kick some life into Mendelssohn’s chronically short, square phrases.
Privately, there seems to be a consensus from choristers and their attending guests that the piece just doesn’t quite hang together, and that our exuberance sometimes toed the line between fortissimo and “shouty.” With no subtlety or dramatic tension short of the Watchman-to-Dawn transition, there’s not much to hang your hat on besides making sure your sound reaches the back row. I do feel we’re finding some of those subtleties and will continue to bring them out in the remaining performances. Assuming we survive — Tovey may kill us all on these fugues, as they’ve gotten a little faster with each performance.