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Modern Orchestra is in fine voice

Conductor Gil Rose and his lively and indispensible band The Boston Modern Orchestra Project have stormed to the rescue of a significant but often overlooked genre -- music for solo voices and orchestra.

The world premiere last night was Andy Vores's "Uncertainty Is Beautiful," a setting of passionate and direct love poems by Mary Oliver and Wislawa Szymborska. Vores's elegantly fashioned music is passionate and dodgy, which adds a layer of complexity. He wrote the cycle for soprano Kendra Colton, who shone most brightly in the quieter, high-lying sections; sometimes he unfairly pitted her lower tones against the winds and brass. Colton's singing came straight from the heart. "Warble for Lilac-Time," an Elliott Carter exercise in Americana from the mid-1940s on a text by Walt Whitman, found tenor Frank Kelley ill-at-ease. Carter's "Voyages III," on Hart Crane, is a more probing song, which the composer orchestrated with imaginative precision more than 30 years after writing it. Mezzo Mary Nessinger sang it with lustrous intensity. George Rochberg's "Sacred Song of Reconciliation" is an unyielding, granitic work on a Hebrew text, sung with power, character, and so much fervor by baritone David Kravitzthat he brought the house down.

Rose and varying chamber-orchestra combinations met every challenge; a large orchestra assembled for Charles Fussell's "Wilde," which the composer described as "a symphony aspiring to be an opera." Premiered by the Newton Symphony and baritone Sanford Sylvan in 1990, it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist the next year. Now BMOP is making the first recording of the piece, which is a meditation on the life of Oscar Wilde, with texts by Will Graham that occasionally borrow Wilde's actual words. The first movement is a survey of Wilde's activities and impulses at the peak of his fame. The second movement, for orchestra alone, depicts the desolation of the period after his fall and imprisonment; the last finds him at the moment of his death, when he can't resist making one final joke. The music is clear, accessible, clever, sweet, heartfelt; it is elusively reverberant as it traverses a shifting emotional landscape.

It would be interesting to see "Wilde" sung in costume and in character sometime. Sylvan may have to work harder to get through the high passages than he used to, but his singing is expressive and his identification with each aspect of Wilde's character complete. The audience repeatedly summoned composer, librettist, singer, and conductor back to the stage, and everyone was applauding everyone else.

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