Critic’s Choice

April 12, 2016 at 12:22 pm

By David Wright

Martin Pearlman

Martin Pearlman

Since 1973 Boston Baroque, the period-instrument orchestra founded and still directed by Martin Pearlman, has been giving performances steeped in knowledge and an intuitive feel for how people played and listened to music in the 18th century.

That includes knowing how all the instruments were made and what they sounded like.  For example, the glockenspiel played by Papageno in the first productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute during the 1790s was nothing like the orchestral instrument of today, which is played with a mallet.  It was a keyboard instrument, and could be played with both hands like a piano. 

Such instruments have been made in modern times.  The trouble is, they have been tuned to modern pitch, A440, instead of the slightly lower A430 typical of 18th-century performances and today’s period-instrument concerts.

When Boston Baroque gave the first period-instruments Magic Flute in America in 1989, it didn’t have the right kind of glockenspiel.  One can only imagine how that fact has gnawed on Martin Pearlman’s mind these 27 years.

Recently, however, an English instrument maker built a glockenspiel tuned to A430, specifically for period-instrument performances of The Magic Flute, such as the ones Boston Baroque is giving this Friday and Saturday, headlined by tenor Nicholas Phan as Tamino and soprano Leah Partridge as Pamina.

So, not only star singers but a star glockenspiel will come to Boston from afar for this week’s semi-staged performances, with stage action directed by Mark Streshinsky.  Top local singers and players will fill out the roster. 

And even at A430, the Queen of the Night’s aria will still sound as high as the starry sky.

Boston Baroque performs Mozart’s The Magic Flute, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. Mr. Pearlman’s program notes at; 617-987-8600.

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