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CAMBRIDGE — New Year’s Eve is not the time for heavy intellectual lifting. Bubbly and sparkly is what the people want. And bubbly and sparkly is what they got (both musical and liquid) at Monday’s entertaining edition of what has become an annual event, the Boston Baroque New Year’s Eve concert.
Martin Pearlman, the group’s music director and conductor, served as avuncular host of a program of “bright, celebratory music”: concertos by Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro Marcello, and Georg Philipp Telemann in the first half, followed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s short comic opera “The Maid Mistress” in the second. As usual, the ensemble performed on Baroque-era instruments, with their more muted, mellow, and subtle sound.
During intermission, champagne was offered in the lofty grand foyer as 2012 was flying away. Yes, the interval did last longer than usual.
The most substantial musical offering was Pergolesi’s “La serva padrona” (The Maid Mistress). First performed in Paris in 1733, this charming piece in two scenes is scored for two singers, bass and soprano, and tells a domestic tale of an overbearing master (Uberto) and his clever housekeeper (Serpina). When Uberto vows to take a wife and replace the willful Serpina, she plots with the male servant Vespone to trick him (disguise, please) into marrying her instead. The subversive anti-aristocratic political message shocked audiences of the time.
Boston Baroque mounted a semi-staged version sung in English. Bass-baritone David Kravitz, familiar from performances with the Boston Symphony and Boston Lyric Opera, sang the role of Uberto with impeccable musicality, fine comic timing, and exemplary enunciation. On only four days’ notice, soprano Sara Heaton stepped in to replace the ailing Courtney Huffman as Serpina. Under the circumstances, Heaton (carrying a score) did very well indeed, employing her agile, full voice with taste, style, and wit. In the mimed role of Vespone, Remo Airaldi relied on world-weary commedia mugging.
With Pearlman at the helm throughout, the orchestra provided unusually sensitive and balanced accompaniment both here and in the three concertos. The string players dug into the contrasts in Corelli’s “Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 7.” They were joined by baroque oboist Marc Schachman for a restrained performance of Marcello’s “Concerto for Oboe in D Minor,” then by Christopher Krueger (baroque flute) and Aldo Abreu (recorder) in a suave account of Telemann’s rustic “Concerto for Flute and Recorder in E Minor, TWV 52.”
Harlow Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.