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Music Review

Wagner songs that drink from the well of ‘Tristan’

Jane Eaglen
Jane EaglenNicola Majocchi

The Boston Classical Orchestra has over the years not only associated itself with an iconic Boston site — Faneuil Hall, where its concerts take place — but also with prominent local musicians deserving to be heard as soloists. In recent seasons this list has included BSO principal players and faculty members at local schools who also have their own lengthy performance resumes.

The distinguished Wagnerian soprano Jane Eaglen falls into the latter category. After years in the top echelons of the opera performance world, Eaglen has now refocused her energies on teaching, officially joining the New England Conservatory voice faculty this fall. BCO music director Steven Lipsitt wisely wasted no time in extending her an invitation to perform with his ensemble. And there she was, appearing as a guest soloist on Sunday’s program.


With an eye toward honoring the current Wagner anniversary year, Eaglen sang the composer’s “Wesendonck Lieder,” a set of songs written on texts by Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of Wagner’s patrons. She is usually also described as Wagner’s lover though the affair appears to have remained unconsummated. Even so, the passion of their connection, as the critic Barry Millington has put it, “supplied a kind of emotional matrix for the upthrust of libidinal urges in ‘Tristan und Isolde.’ ”

Some portion of that seething Tristan-esque sensuality finds its way into these five songs as well, and Sunday’s performance conveyed aspects of this expressive intensity. Eaglen, who has faced health issues in recent years, retains a powerful vocal instrument that delivered a visceral thrill as it flooded Faneuil Hall on Sunday, soaring above the orchestra and pinging off the walls and ceiling of the historic building, especially in the fourth song, titled “Schmerzen” or “Anguish.” For his part, Lipsitt delivered shapely and idiomatic support, and Peggy Pearson’s oboe solo closed the song “Stehe Still” with particular eloquence.


Lipsitt, celebrating his 15th anniversary season at the orchestra’s helm, framed the Wagner songs with Verdi’s String Symphony (from his String Quartet in E-minor) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, in a robust and vigorous reading. BCO forces can face an uphill battle acoustically in this sometimes overly reverberant hall, and Sunday’s performance was at its most persuasive in the quieter moments of the Verdi, and at the opening of the Beethoven Larghetto movement, here sounding lilting, warm, and unhurried. An enthusiastic BCO audience made its appreciation known.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.