What’s in a name?
That question came to mind during a recent conversation with Martin Pearlman, music director of Boston Baroque. The subject was Handel’s “Gloria,” a cantata for solo soprano and strings that had sat for years, unattributed, in a library at the Royal Academy of Music in London. It had been included in a manuscript volume that contained music by Handel and other composers, and since the piece didn’t have his name on it, “no one paid much attention to it,” Pearlman said by phone.
That changed in 2001, when a German musicologist established conclusively that the piece was in fact a Handel composition, likely written early in the composer’s career. Suddenly the world seemed intent on identifying signs of the young composer’s genius, and performances and recordings quickly followed.
All of which is interesting because, as Pearlman said, “the piece is just as good as it was before. But suddenly, with the name of Handel on it, people pay attention to it. They want to hear it, and they play it.”
Though new to the repertoire, the “Gloria” has in a short time become something of a favorite for Boston Baroque. The ensemble gave what Pearlman believes are the first local performances of the piece in February and March 2002, and subsequently played it on tour in Puerto Rico in 2009 and again in Boston in 2011. Now Pearlman is returning to it for Boston Baroque’s annual New Year’s concerts on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, where it shares a program with two chestnuts: Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto and the F-major Suite from Handel’s “Water Music.”
It’s the quicksilver intensity of the music that both tips off a listener to the composer’s authorship and makes it appropriate for the occasion, Pearlman explained. “It’s got that brilliant quality that fits our New Year’s program. There are a lot of Handelian touches, in cadences and things like that. But also, there’s just a brightness and brilliance that are really rare among many other composers.”
The same works, albeit with a slightly shortened version of the “Water Music,” are on the ensemble’s fifth annual free community concert at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, on Dec. 30. That series connects the ensemble to a different but no less attentive audience than the ones that attend the gala performances at Sanders.
“I think I can speak for everybody that we love it,” Pearlman said of the community concerts. “It’s certainly less formal, and there’s a lot of kids and families in the audience. You just feel like you’re bringing music to people who haven’t been able to go to our other concerts. [But] you don’t in any sense feel like you play down to people. We play our music, we talk about it, try to engage people as I do in any concert. And we get a wonderful reaction.”
Those events can also provide even veteran musicians like Boston Baroque’s of why they do what they do. Pearlman reported that one of the ensemble’s bass players was leaving the Strand when a police officer spotted her with her instrument and asked if she’d just played a concert there. She replied that she had.
“‘I heard one like that when I was a kid and it changed my life,’” the policeman responded.
“It really is very inspiring,” Pearlman added. “Those kinds of things really speak to you.”
Boston Baroque At Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Tickets: $25-90. 617-987-8600, www.bostonbaroque.org
Eminent local releases from 2017
As the year comes to a close, here are a few releases by local musicians that should not go unnoted.
Chaya Czernowin, “Hidden”
JACK Quartet and others (Wergo)
The Harvard-based composer creates uncompromising music built of disruptive gestures and alien sounds. The 43-minute title piece on this release deploys a live string quartet and electronics to create a sense of depth and dimensionality that’s almost physically palpable. It’s not an easy listen, like all of Czernowin’s music, but its interior drama makes it gripping nonetheless.
David Del Tredici, “Child Alice”
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose (BMOP/sound)
Last year, the new-music orchestra gave the first complete performance in three decades of Del Tredici’s sprawling Lewis Carroll-inspired work, part of which won the Pulitzer Prize for music. The recording captures the sheer audacity of the composer’s conception: an explosion of tonality that seems to reach for ever more ecstatic heights, yet also carries undercurrents of nostalgia and lost innocence.
Beethoven, Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin, Volume 3
Ian Watson and Susanna Ogata (Coro)
Is there room for another set of recordings of Beethoven’s Op. 30 violin sonatas? Certainly, when performed with the buoyancy and rhythmic acuity with which violinist Ogata and keyboardist Watson, both of the Handel and Haydn Society, infuse them. The drama underpinning the C-minor Sonata and the effortless charm of the A-major make clear that there is a true communicative spirit at work between these two superb musicians.