Soprano shines with Boston Baroque

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / October 18, 2010

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Boston Baroque and conductor Martin Pearlman offered a hail and farewell this past weekend, opening their season with a program dedicated to their executive director Carole Friedman, who is stepping down this week after 20 years. It’s an amicable parting; that the concert was dominated by jilted lovers was either coincidence or wry comic tribute.

The betrayal and vengeance came courtesy of soprano Barbara Quintiliani, who was in excellent form. Quintiliani’s voice gleams, all brushed steel from top to bottom, with a finely-honed edge even in the headiest down. If she erred on the side of caution in the all-or-nothing-at-all, doleful-or-damning whiplashes of Beethoven’s concert aria “Ah! perfido,’’ the shimmer and spin never wavered. And two arias from Cherubini’s “Medée,’’ in its original French version, were superbly sung. “Du trouble affreux’’ was all escalating zeal, reserves of power welling up from within phrases, cresting in high, bright drama; “Vous voyez de vos fils’’ was a particular knockout, a silky plea laced with danger, the effortless legato, without warning, detonating with ringing incriminations.

Her pacing, especially in the Cherubini, was scrupulous — intelligent, overlapping arcs — though the polished accompaniment consistently hung just behind the vocal line, rather than urging it on. The orchestra seemed to defer to Quintiliani’s sheer resonance, leaving her to provide the necessary impetus with timbre alone. Most of the time, it was enough.

The turmoil was framed by a pair of symphonies. Mozart’s Symphony No. 33, K. 319 (a dry run for a future Boston Baroque recording project) had a kind of mischievous lilt, dainty phrases landing on deep, well-placed sonic cushions. The performance also made fine, understated use of Mozart’s throwaway decorations, the chromatic asides tucked into the edges of his sturdy tonal paragraphs.

In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, there was a tendency for softer phrases to surrender too much rhythmic energy, which resulted in a stop-and-go, episodic reading. But the sound was marvelous — bracing and bristling with rich texture — as was the realization of Beethoven’s capriciousness, the music’s constant suddenness. Abrupt contrasts, whipped offbeat accents: The group turned on a dime again and again. Beethoven would have loved to take the wheel of such a high-performance machine.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at

BOSTON BAROQUE Martin Pearlman,

music director

Barbara Quintiliani, soprano

At: Jordan Hall, Friday