Wilkins, Boston Landmarks Orchestra bring drama and insight to Beethoven program

August 4, 2017 at 11:07 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Music of Beethoven made up the Boston Landmarks Orchestra program Thursday night.

Music of Beethoven made up the Boston Landmarks Orchestra program Thursday night.

Beethoven’s music supplies the backbone of many symphony orchestra concert programs. Indeed, Boston’s musical ensembles fill every season with concerts dedicated to the composer’s symphonies, concertos, and other works.

Thursday night at the DCR Hatch Shell, Christopher Wilkins and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra turned their attention to Beethoven, in a program rescheduled from Wednesday due to weather.

The bulk of the program was dedicated to the composer’s majestic Ninth Symphony. The Ninth needs little introduction among music lovers. But one cannot overstate that the work, with its searching rendition of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, rises to the broadly humanistic realm of musical expression. 

Landmarks’ performance of the score Thursday night was a rich and at times even revelatory experience, largely due to Wilkins’ keen direction. The conductor led with an eye to the details of the work. The nebulous opening of the first movement moved at a brisk pace, which gave the music dramatic thrust and urgency. Phrases built through a long crescendo into thundering climaxes.

The fugal statements of the Scherzo moved gracefully. Wilkins opened the throttle for the Trio, which never lost its rustic charm due to glowing French horn and bassoon lines.

The Adagio is one of Beethoven’s most affecting movements. There, a lyrical line wound its way through the orchestral texture like a thread. The brief French horn solo that soared over the ensemble was warm and radiant.

The telos of this work, of course, is the finale. Its opening features the return of themes from the previous movements, to which cellos and basses provide commentary before offering their own theme, the famous Ode to Joy hymn. When that theme was heard Thursday night, the lower strings sounded with dark lyricism as Wilkins shaped the phrase with swelling and fading dynamics.

The quartet of vocal soloists was excellent. Soprano Michelle Johnson and contralto Emily Marvosh blended their voices for resplendent passages. Ron Williams sang the opening “O Freunde, niche diese Töne” with a commanding baritone, while tenor William Hite delivered his solo with power and conviction.

Unfortunately, the chorus was the weak link in this performance, mostly due to the Hatch Shell’s amplification system. The Back Bay Chorale and One City Singers, prepared by Scott Allen Jarrett, sang with shimmering tone. But the ensemble couldn’t compete with the amplified orchestra and soloists. The singers’ diction was often muddled and lost beneath waves of orchestral sound. 

Balances fared better in the solo spotlight of the evening, which fell upon violinist Adrian Anantawan.

Anantawan is a gifted musician who is capable of gleaming tone and searching expression. That’s all the more remarkable as he is missing his right hand. He plays his instrument with a bow that is attached to a device called a spatula, which is fixed to his right forearm.

His playing of Beethoven’s Romance in F major, Op. 50 for violin and orchestra had smoothness of tone and sensitivity. The trickling passages that appear midwork were shaded with subtle rubato. Wilkins, leading with gentle waving gestures, drew a plush accompaniment from the orchestra. Phrases between soloist and the larger ensemble lapped upon one another like waves on sand.

Fine playing also characterized Thursday’s performance of Beethoven’s incidental music from Egmont. 

Michelle Johnson sang briefly in the role of Clärchen from Goethe’s play, offering a clarion and lyrical “Die Trommel gerühret.” In the Entracte and Overture, Wilkins led playing of driving energy. The power and drama of the opening measures settled into churning phrases. Elsewhere the music beamed from silky woodwind and string passages. 

Even the short opener, Beethoven’s Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens, featured the orchestra in moments of precision. Wind and string figures added flourishes to the stately melody, and percussionist Craig McNutt provided additional Janissary pomp with his playing of the Turkish Crescent, a bell-tree-like instrument. Fine performances like these reveal why Beethoven’s music remains timeless. 

Christopher Wilkins will lead the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in music by Sibelius, Beach, Márquez, Roustom, Grau, and Dvorák 7 p.m. Wednesday at the DCR Hatch Shell.landmarksorchestra.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Wilkins, Boston Landmarks Orchestra bring drama and insight to Beethoven program”

  1. Posted Aug 07, 2017 at 2:27 pm by Jan Paulsen

    I sat up front and did not note that the chorus was “lost” in the volume from the orchestra. There was a much larger contingent of singers in this chorus than one usually expects, and their volume was well balanced with that of the instrumentals. In all, it was a magnificent performance!

Leave a Comment