Bloom’s magical Shakespeare adds spice to BSO’s Mendelssohn

April 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

By Keith Powers

Bernard Haitink conducts the BSO Thursday night with Claire Bloom as narrator. Photo: Stu Rosner

There was some terrific playing by the Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday evening under Bernard Haitink, yet for once the spoken word nearly trumped the music. With iconic actress Claire Bloom evocatively reciting the narrative of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not even the BSO’s excellent performance under stalwart Dutch maestro Bernard Haitink could upstage the legendary stage star reciting the Bard.

Bloom read the text, succinctly adapted by Ara Guzelimian, with energy that matched Mendelssohn’s fanciful score. Yes, the soloists (soprano Layla Claire, mezzo Kate Lindsey), and the choruses (the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and from PALS Children’s Chorus), all sang remarkably in their supporting roles. The BSO played with gusto. But Claire Bloom brought Shakespeare’s world to life.

The composition of the Overture and the rest of the work is separated by almost two decades, yet one would hardly know it. Only in the rare film score is the art of incidental music kept alive today. In Mendelssohn’s time, creating inventive accompaniment to stage works was commonplace, although rarely achieved with this quality. It’s hardly the complexity of this music that attracts, but the endlessly shifting character of its simplicity, and its ability to transport us to that nocturnal dreamworld of Puck, Oberon and Titania.

The Overture had many delights, chief among them the string playing. The first section followed concertmaster Malcolm Lowe’s lead with shimmering threads of melody—from the first measure, the forest was drawn, and everyone was looking for the woodland fairies.

Each of the movements, interspersed with Bloom’s elegantly paced, evocative reading, brought out a different character. The horn work in some of the less well known passages stood out, especially the Dance of the Clowns. The counterpoint in the famous Wedding March was glorious, distinguished by the lower strings. Through it all, Bloom kept Shakespeare’s fantasy alive.

Haitink was beginning the first of three season-ending concerts with the orchestra, and typically the orchestra responds with gusto to the conductor’s understated leadership. It’s been many years and many programs under Haitink, who now holds the title conductor emeritus. His downbeat is regular, entrances are pointed out without histrionics, and crescendos are signaled as if they are part of the score, not something the conductor just dreamed up.

The program began with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. Under lesser conductors, this might have been a perfunctory concert opener, chosen for its brevity and uncomplicated style. Under Haitink, the simple Andante cantabile sang in long phrases, the third movement, Menuetto shaped the work, and the finale, which grows from a simple Adagio line to a robust Allegro, sounded triumphant.

The program repeats 8 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday. bso.org; 888-266-1200.

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