2014 & 15 National and International Press QuotesRead More
Splendor of Venice at Fairmount Presbyterian
by Daniel Hathaway
“The concert opened with Sorrell’s “Concerto Grosso” arrangement of a movement from Uccellini’s Trio Sonata in D, renamed La Bergamasca. A set of extravagant variations on a four-note bass line, the piece showed Apollo’s Fire at its exuberant best, engaging with the music as few early music ensembles dare to do. Picture the cellists, bassist, and continuo players cherishing those endlessly repeating four notes as though they were the finest bass line ever written, and you can see why Apollo’s Fire charmed audiences from Tanglewood to England to Italy last summer — and did it once again on Friday night in Cleveland Heights….
Bassoonist Marc Vallon lent his warm, expressive tones to Vivaldi’s solo lines in the a-minor concerto (RV 497)…Violinists Julie Andrijeski and Johanna Novom splendidly took the solo honors in Vivaldi’s g-minor concerto, RV 578, beginning with sneaky entrances that led to stabbing gestures of surprising violence…”Read More
Apollo’s Fire lives up to its word with treat-filled ‘Splendor of Venice’ program
by Mark Satola
“Apollo’s Fire hit the ground of their new season running, powered by their dual summertime triumphs at Tanglewood and the BBC Proms. Concertos by Vivaldi anchored their October program, but considerable interest was generated by music by some of the “outliers,” including Marco Uccellini and Evaristo Dall’Abaco. The festive nature of “Splendor of Venice” was underscored Friday by the ensemble’s processional entry into the nave and sanctuary of Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights.
Soloists Kathie Stewart, flute, and Debra Nagy, oboe, were well matched and nimble in their roles, and the ensemble essayed some of their most polished playing .. A highlight of the evening was his Bassoon Concerto in A minor, with Marc Vallon as soloist…Vallon was appropriately warm in tone…”Read More
BBC Proms Review
by Richard Fairman
“The afternoon concert at Cadogan Hall brought the Cleveland-based, period instrument ensemble Apollo’s Fire to London. Their programme of mostly Baroque music flickered and danced, distinguished by cultivated string tone and buoyancy of rhythm. The most appealing item was a selection of movements from Telemann’s Burlesque de Quixotte, vignettes of vivid, pictorial character. Alina Ibragimova, fresh from Bach’s solo violin works at this year’s Proms, gave lithe performances of concertos by Vivaldi and Bach. The programme was designed to take the audience back to Zimmermann’s coffee house in 18th-century Leipzig. Unusually, women were allowed at Zimmermann’s for concerts — just as well, when Apollo’s Fire has more women players than men and is directed by the live-wire Jeannette Sorrell.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire & Alina Ibragimova: ‘superbly judged’
by Jonathan McAloon
“I can’t imagine a more superbly judged and also fresh experience of the composer. The slow second movement of this early example of a symphony – unshowy but heavenly – almost brought tears to the eyes with its sigh and swell.”Read More
Baroque Orchestra conquers Tanglewood
by Steven Ledbetter
“Only a few minutes into the concert, one realized that this was going to be no typical Baroque sewing-machine outing…. The dramatic cadenza of astonishing virtuosity [in Brandenburg #5]… was indeed hair-raising and brilliantly played by Jeannette Sorrell to such a point that the audience gave a rousing ovation at the end of the first movement… The encore truly brought the house down.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire hits on successful formula with “Blues Café 1610 program”
by Mark Satola
“Apollo’s Fire, since its inception fifteen years ago, has found a successful formula in the themed concert…Their newest concept is “Blues Café 1610,” a framework on which to hang an exploration of mostly secular repertoire from lesser known 16th-and 17th-century composers…At Friday’s concert, longtime members of the extended Apollo’s Fire family… create[d] the impression of a gathering place for hearty repasts, warm fellowship and a smorgasbord of appealing music.
Four familiar Apollo’s Fire singers gathered for the presentation: soprano Nell Snaidas, tenors Karim Sulayman and Oliver Mercer, and baritone Jeffrey Strauss. Snaidas was glowing… Strauss’s abilities as a forceful and dramatic singer came to the fore. The vocal star of the evening, however, was Sulayman, whose subtle and wide-ranging tenor voice was marvelous throughout. Finally, we come to Sorrell. Her performance of Storace’s “Folias d’Espagna” indicated that her audiences are long overdue a solo keyboard recital by her.”Read More
Baroque Blues: Apollo’s Fire in café style
by Frank Kuznik
“Imagine Claudio Monteverdi and other luminaries of the early Baroque era gathered in an Italian café, trading ideas over generous glasses of vino while the band improvises on their latest musical creations…With songs and dances rooted in the popular music of the era, [they]… made a persuasive case for a direct line running from composers like Monteverdi and Diego Ortiz to Woody Guthrie and the Rolling Stones. One of the hallmarks of the ensemble is its easy blend of erudition and entertainment, with Jeannette Sorrell compiling tasty and instructive programs…. A program of this depth and caliber can only be assayed by an ensemble that knows its music history and has mastered early music chops. The sheer delight that permeated their performance made it easily accessible and fun.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire treats listeners to a charming family gathering
by Zach Lewis
The second of two AF programs this season celebrating Bach, the performance evokes the composer’s home and milieu with degrees of vividness and theatricality rare on any stage…a late family reunion, a get-together with Johann Sebastian and two of his famous composer sons, Johann Christian and Wilhelm Friedemann. It also boasts a staging of the elder’s “Coffee” Cantata, set at a Leipzig coffeehouse…To such sparkling performances by AF director Jeannette Sorrell and a handful of AF principals and apprentices, one could have listened happily for ages…the real jolt came via J.S. Bach’s “Coffee” Cantata, a singular work depicting a coffeehouse argument between a father and his daughter over her marriage prospects and addiction to caffeine. Rarely performed in its own right, the piece Thursday was given even rarer treatment in the form of a semi-staged production… a fetching combination of vocal radiance and dramatic awareness that brought the quirky tale to life…a truly distinctive program. Apollo’s Fire treated listeners to a most appropriate bonus beverage: coffee. If only all concerts wrapped up so neatly.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire: Bach “Family Frolic” at CIM’s Mixon Hall
by Daniel Hathaway
“Apollo’s Fire’s “Fireside Concerts” this season gather audiences around the hypothetical hearth of the Bach family in Leipzig (before moving on to Zimmermann’s Coffee House)… featuring the talented members of the ensemble’s Young Artist Apprentice Program performing alongside AF regulars. The light-hearted, 90-minute concert culminated in a cleverly staged performance of Johann Sebastian’s amusing “Coffee Cantata.” The “fourth wall” came down abruptly right at the end of the brief intermission when Zimmermann hurried onstage and moved into the audience with his broom, sweeping up and trying to get the crowd to stop nattering and take their seats. Jeffrey Strauss perfectly captured the personality of Schlendrian — bumbling and at his wits’ end — singing with excellent diction and a fine sense of comedy. [Madeline] Healey’s strong, clear voice and supple delivery beautifully suited the frequently ornate music Bach wrote for Lieschen, and her acting fit the character of a dizzy daughter like a glove. [Jeannette] Sorrell’s imaginative staging brought the instrumental ensemble into the action and sometimes coyly made good fun of itself…”Read More
Apollo’s Fire brings a riveting new work to Cleveland: Handel’s Messiah
by Timothy Robson
For those who thought they knew Messiah, the performance on Saturday evening by Apollo’s Fire, conducted by Jeannette Sorrell, was a revelation. In the second of five performances in four venues around the Cleveland area, Messiah has seldom seemed so dramatic, soalive with detail, yet with an overall sense of the work’s architecture. Throughout the almost three hour performance, my attention never flagged, even in arias that can sometimes be dull… Throughout, it was Jeannette Sorrell’s vision which led to an uncommonly unified success. This was a Messiah that will last in my memory for a very long time.Read More
Apollo’s Fire breathes new life into Handel’s beloved ‘Messiah’
by Mark Satola
It is their current series of performances of Handel’s beloved oratorio “Messiah” that returns Apollo’s Fire to its original raison d’etre, which is to breathe new life, through early-music practices, into music that over three hundred years of playing has accrued, like ivy that degrades mortar, an overlay of inimical habits of performance… Artistic director Jeannette Sorrell and her players and singers accomplished this handily with their 2014 edition… Sorrell’s approach, which is at once alert and more intense (her baton on this occasion was more forceful and direct than usual), highlighted the visceral excitement of the music, and, for those listening for it, underscored the excitement Handel himself must have felt …The chorus of 26 (“Apollo’s Singers”) was similarly light on its feet, rendering Handel’s masterful counterpoint with clarity and verve, but rising to sonic splendor when Handel calls for it. …Meredith Hall was reliably crystalline, and baritone Jeffrey Strauss was an appealing proponent of Jennens’ patchwork libretto, whether shaking the heavens and the earth (“Thus saith the Lord”) or calling forth the notes of the trumpet (“The trumpet shall sound”).Read More
“The robust and wonderfully vivacious account of the [Monteverdi Vespers] given in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church by the Cleveland early music group Apollo’s Fire… was a full-blown party in 17th century garb. A particular theory of the piece’s history adopted by conductor Jeannette Sorrell… makes for a voluptuous and hugely gripping approach to Monteverdi’s masterpiece… a vast and inviting feast, ranging from exuberant choral explosions to intimate expressions of the amorous.
Sorrell brought… plenty of fervor and force to the big choral psalm settings such as “Dixit Dominus” and “Laudate pueri,” while still allowing the more detailed effects of Monteverdi’s writing to register clearly. Tenor Oliver Mercer brought heart-stopping ardor to “Nigra sum,” and Molly Quinn and Nell Snaidas intertwined their sopranos in the sensuous duet “Pulchra es.” And for sheer grandiose splendor, it would be hard to top the expansive setting of the “Magnificat” with which the piece closes. Sorrell and her forces delivered it with superb energy and clarity to put the cap on a wholly exhilarating evening.”Read More
“A resplendent version of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610.” …I have heard recordings of this work over many years with pleasure, but the impact of a live performance by so professionally accomplished a group as Apollo’s Fire was overwhelming. . . The choral singing was excellent in ensemble discipline, and the ability of these singers to control phrasing, volume, and intricate blending of voices was most impressive. The solo singers were outstanding in their vivid enunciation of the Latin Psalm texts. The instrumental sound of the therbos (large lutes) and sackbuts (trombones) stood out in the delightful aural array of ancient instruments. Conductor Sorrell did a superb job in maintaining forward momentum in this complex and monumental score.”Read More
The Cleveland Orchestra isn’t the only musical missionary in Northeast Ohio. No, Apollo’s Fire also does its hometown proud, spreading the good sounds of Cleveland far and wide. Make that very good sounds. Its performance here [in Ann Arbor] of Monteverdi’s Vespers, the second stop on a wide-ranging national tour, was at once resplendent and insightful, opening the eyes of a packed St. Francis of Assisi Church to the wonders of both the music itself and the group presenting it. Moreover, the audience was unusually discriminating. University Musical Society, presenter of the concert, is one of the oldest and most distinguished series of its kind in the nation. Thus does it truly speak volumes when a crowd here not only leaps to its feet but also posts praise immediately afterward in a dedicated online forum.
From the procession with which it began to the florid, antiphonal exchanges between superb tenors Karim Sulayman and Oliver Mercer at its conclusion, the performance was bracingly theatrical… two bewitching hours of sometimes tense, often enrapturing, and always vivid musical drama… None of these glories would have been possible without the orchestra – colorfully decked out with sackbuts, theorbos, and a recorder – or Sorrell’s lucid, emotionally rich leadership. Under her guidance, the ensemble remained pointedly on task, locked on every line’s poignant potential. To many in Ann Arbor, all this may have come as something of a revelation…Surely some of those now are jealous of Cleveland. After all, we in Northeast Ohio get to hear Apollo’s Fire not once every few years but seven times annually.Read More
Apollo’s Fire: Monteverdi’s Vespers at St. Paul’s, Akron
by Daniel Hathaway
“A dazzling guided tour…a glittering parade of pieces: five inventive settings of Vespers psalms for double chorus with four interspersed “Motets” in the new theatrical style for soloists, then at the end, a spirited instrumental sonata with soprano obbligato, a rich elaboration of the hymn Ave maris stella, and a striking setting of the Magnificat. Apollo’s Singers, 22 strong including soloists, sang with potent focus and laser-sharp intonation throughout the evening….impressive on all counts: brilliantly paced, arrestingly sung and magnificently played.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire Triumphs in “Glory on the Mountain”
by James Flood
Apollo Fire’s Sunday evening performance at the Baroque Music Barn in Hunting Valley shows why the early music/Baroque ensemble can and should make forays outside of classical and into the heart of American folk music…“Glory on the Mountain” is an exploration into the music and culture of 18th and 19th century Appalachia, a place populated by British settlers. It combines haunting melodies, foot-stomping jigs and reels, stories, and a healthy dose of comedy, all with musicianship of the highest order. The audience sang, clapped, shed a few tears, and laughed, ultimately enjoying a taste of the good times that our mountain forebears must have had…an absolutely joyous achievement. See it/hear it if you can. Bravo!Read More
Sandrine Piau and Apollo’s Fire at Birmingham Town Hall
by Norman Stinchcombe
“Apollo’s Fire brought a type of American bohemian chic which was a refreshing change from the more staid, often po-faced, British baroque bands. Led by exuberant, flame-haired Jeannette Sorrell, they were flamboyant and fun. And boy, they can play, too. Their party piece – Vivaldi’s trio sonata La Folia arranged as an increasingly frenetic dancing concerto grosso by Sorrell – energetically rounded off a hugely enjoyable concert.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire, St John’s Smith Square
Sublime mastery from Sandrine Piau and an exciting return from an American period band
by Alexandra Coghlan
“Maverick energy… Artistic Director Jeannette Sorrell knows her repertoire well, and chose a wonderful selection of works to showcase her band. It was great to see the music stands put away for this dancing, stamping piece of musical madness [Vivaldi’s La Folia arranged by Sorrell]. The group are natural communicators. Apollo’s Fire are a wonderful antidote for too much British baroque.”Read More
The Power of Love – Apollo’s Fire/Jeanette Sorrell with Sandrine Piau –
Vivaldi, Rameau and Handel
by Richard Landau
“The ever-growing reputation of Apollo’s Fire – an ensemble based in Cleveland, Ohio – ensured a substantial and very appreciate audience. This well-planned programme demonstrated to perfection the players’ high artistry. The opening movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D, [arranged by Sorrell] served as a lively opener in which all of the musicians’ stylishness and virtuosity were on display. One immediately sense the intense rapport between the players, and between them and Jeannette Sorrell. The most stunning orchestra item was Sorrell’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s trio sonata “La Folia” (Madness). The playing became evermore abandoned until, with tapped cellos adding to the riot of sound, the piece whirled towards a boisterously exhilarating climax. This was a supremely satisfying concert on every level. A further appearance in London by Apollo’s Fire would be very welcome.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire, Birmingham Town Hall, review: ‘agile grace and unforced energy’
by Ivan Hewett
“An evening of superlative music-making. The group’s director, harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, put together an ingenious programme which showed off the ensemble’s range of colour, mood and style . . . playful and flexible. Each piece found its own special colour. Another engaging thing about the group is that they combine European stylishness with “can-do” American entrepreneurism. They seize on unlikely things like American folk music and recreate it with foot-stomping brio – as their first encore showed. And Sorrell arranged [Vivaldi’s La Folia] for the full band and the results were thrilling. The players’ agile grace and unforced lyrical energy made them ideal partners for soprano Sandrine Piau.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire in passionate music (mostly) by Handel and Vivaldi
by Timothy Robson
One of the hallmarks of Apollo’s Fire’s performances is the naturalness and freedom of their music-making. Although very carefully planned and rehearsed, the musicians always project a sense of spontaneity and improvisation. Also, Jeannette Sorrell is not afraid to make things her own, as exemplified in the program by two of her transcriptions of Vivaldi works that opened and closed the concert…it was stylishly done… (“La Folia” ) turned into a kind of Baroque “jam session. The whole group performed from memory, with a sense of improvisation and everexpanding ornamentation, passing the thematic material around from section to section. It was a tour de force that brought the program to a thrilling conclusion.
Soprano Amanda Forsythe joins Apollo’s Fire in glorious display of ‘The Power of Love’
by Zachary Lewis
Illuminated by soprano Amanda Forsythe, last week’s Apollo’s Fire program was truly not to be topped, and for the performances, the only possible feeling was affection. If only the evening, the orchestra’s last subscription program, had been longer. Two hours of Baroque love-themed arias and related instrumental music under Jeannette Sorrell practically rushed by, leaving patrons Friday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights ready and eager for more… the real joy was all the colorful vocal plumage Forsythe displayed: lustrous sighs and perky leaps accomplished with ultimate precision. These were the magic in Forsythe’s spells, and each one only served to deepen the enchantment…What’s more, the performances by the orchestra were the equal of the soloist’s, mirroring every bit of her spirit and agility.Read More
Bright and dazzling, again.
by Laura Kennelly
Apollo’s Fire shone forth in another innovative and brilliant new program: Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews. Collaborating co-directors conductor Jeannette Sorrell and soprano Nell Snaidas created a new listening adventure that incorporated voices and instruments to devise (dare I say?) a magic carpet that swept Sunday afternoon’s large audience away.Read More
February 25, 2014 – Classical Voice North America
(Journal of the Music Critics Association of North America)
Apollo’s Fire Maps Jewish Music In Sephardic Journey
by Daniel Hathaway
Under its founder and director Jeannette Sorrell, the Cleveland Baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire has developed a local, national, and international reputation for its vivid and passionate interpretations of early music on period instruments since the ensemble waslaunched in 1992…Now Sorrell has taken her programming to a new level in a showcase of Jewish music from Spain and Italy…Sorrell and her colleagues constructed a semi-narrative program from these materials that neatly balanced three different facets of life among the Jews of the Spanish/Italian diaspora: remembering (“O Jerusalem!,” two sections beginning each half of the program), religious ritual (“The Temple” and “The Sabbath”), and family life (“Love and Romance” and “Feasting and Celebration”). With performers of such reliable quality and a director who choreographs the proceedings down to the tiniest detail, Apollo’s Fire always puts on a good show…Read More
Apollo’s Fire arrives at a hit with new ‘Sephardic Journey’ program
by Mark Satola
The question one might ask, upon experiencing Apollo’s Fire’s new evening-length “Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews,” is why they waited so long to put it together. It certainly has the potential to be the ensemble’s biggest hit since their long-running “Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers” presentation… Certainly, if one is to judge from the audience’s acclaim at Saturday night’s performance at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, Sorrell and company have a new favorite on their hands, one which is likely to become a regular event.Read More
Apollo’s Fire sets Cleveland aflame
by Frank Kuznik
Who says American early music bands can’t play European music? Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland-based early music ensemble that will be touring the UK and Austria with Sandrine Piau in May,took local fans on a journey to medieval Spain this past weekend with delightfully authentic songs of the Sephardic Jews. The spirit and sound of the music could have come straight out of a Middle Eastern bazaar, mixed with spices ranging from ancient prayer chants to Italian Baroque… This was a scholarly, imaginative program that only a skillful and adventuresome ensemble could pull off. The packed house it attracted suggests that for both players and audiences,there are fascinating worlds to explore beyond the traditional borders of Baroque.
Apollo’s Fire — Praetorius Christmas Vespers at Trinity Cathedral (December 14)
by Daniel Hathaway
Well before the more pietistic style of Lutheran church music that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote at Leipzig in the second quarter of the eighteenth century came the Italian-influenced, Renaissance style ofMichael Praetorius, the subject of Jeannette Sorrell’s well-crafted and expertly performed Christmas Vespers with Apollo’s Fire…There were too many special moments to count… In reviving the Praetorius Vespers program, Apollo’s Fire has provided a compelling alternative to the area’s holiday concert scene.Read More
Apollo’s Fire brings ancient folk and liturgical music to vibrant life in ‘Sacrum Mysterium’
by Mark Satola
There’s no mystery to the endless popularity of Apollo’s Fire’s “Sacrum Mysterium,” a musical retelling of the Christmas story through ancient liturgical settings and Celtic songs and dances. The inexpressible otherworldliness evoked by the source material’s antiquity, and its modal musical rhetoric, so deeply rooted in folk song, strike a resonant chord in every hearer…There could be no better setting for this musical trip through the ages than Trinity’s richly detailed evocation of centuries-old ecclesiastical architecture. Central to “Sacrum Mysterium” is the role taken again this year by soprano Meredith Hall, a singer of such artistic skill and timbral purity that it’s hard to imagine another singer taking her place.
Apollo’s Fire players offer an enticing taste of Baroque ‘Tangos and Fandangos”
by Mark Satola
A streamlined ensemble drawn from the ranks of Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, presented a loosely themed program last weekend called “Tangos and Fandangos,” with music by Luigi Boccherini and modern pasticheur “René Duchiffre.” …In both the String Quintet in E Major (with a second cello added) and the Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major, Boccherini’s highly conversational style was in evidence, as violinists Olivier Brault and Andrew Fouts, violist Karina Schmitz and cellists René Schiffer and Mimé Brinkman masterfully navigated the music’s resourceful (and unique) deployment of melody and counterpoint…The tango finale was a textural delight, with the three upper-string players in close harmony, and a return of the evening’s guitarists, with Simms this time playing a long-necked chitarrone. Schiffer and Brinkmann led the spirited proceedings with verve and humor.Read More
Apollo’s Fire warrants growing acclaim with program of Baroque showpieces
by Mark Satola
What might have been a standard-fare concert of Baroque favorites was transformed into a celebration of artistic achievement by Apollo’s Fire in the new season’s opening salvo of concerts last weekend at a variety of locations in Northeast Ohio. Apollo’s Fire has thrived and blossomed under the sure hand of music director Jeanette Sorrell for more than 20 years. In that time, Cleveland’s Baroque orchestra has made steady inroads into worldwide awareness, garnering acclaim for its lively and alert performances of Baroque and Renaissance repertoire.Read More
Apollo’s Fire “Virtuoso Orchestra” at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, Cleveland Heights (October 12)
by Nicholas Jones
As Apollo’s Fire heads out on a real tour across North American, last weekend’s set of concerts gave us a virtual tour of some of the top orchestras across Europe—all without leaving our seats. Talk about not leaving a carbon footprint!…The theme, “virtuoso orchestra,” led music director Jeannette Sorrell to feature concertos in which Apollo’s Fire’s soloists could step forward and dazzle us as their counterparts 300 years ago must have done. It is a remarkable strength of this group that so many excellent soloists could emerge from the ranks of the orchestra, play these very challenging parts, and then rejoin the ripieno, as the back-benchers were called at the time.Read More
Apollo’s Fire Countryside Concerts — “My Father was a Matchmaker,” June 6
by Alexandra A. Vago
From glen to glen, the bagpipes shepherded guests to the Baroque Barn in Hunting Valley… The evening was an intimate glimpse into the Céilí, an informal social gathering that includes song, dance, poetry and storytelling…The program was woven together as skillfully as the most intricate, interlaced Celtic knot. In true communal fashion, the ensemble was the star of the show. Each person was able to garner a few moments in the spotlight, but the real gem was the collective group — they musically embodied the symbolism of the Claddagh ring – love, loyalty, and friendship…Ross Hauck (tenor) demonstrated breadth of character as the jaunty limerick raconteur one moment and then drew us in close for his fatherly perspective on “Danny Boy.” I could almost envision Mr. Seamus Ennis smiling while Brian Bigley played the uilleann pipes, and his Irish dancing was clearly world class.Read More
Apollo’s Fire Countryside Players charm with Irish tunes, humor
by Mark Satola
The Apollo’s Fire Countryside Players launched their 15th summer season with a program of Irish reels and airs, and wry, rambling tales from internationally renowned storyteller Foley, entitled “My Father Was a Matchmaker.” …Ireland was evoked in sound by the Countryside Players, who created a glowing web of plucked, bowed and struck strings, pierced by the tart notes of Bigley’s uilleann pipes, the sharp pennywhistle or the soft, dovelike notes of the wooden flute. High tenor Hauck sang the sentimental airs with the requisite delicacy…The most electrifying notes of the evening were sounded by Bigley’s block-heeled dancing shoes, as he stepped a loud and complex tattoo on the wooden stage, at one point trading licks with (and besting) the Irish frame drum, the bodhran, played by guitarist Coulter.Read More
Oberlin Artist Recital Series — Apollo’s Fire in “Mozart & Papa Haydn” in Finney Chapel (April 28)
by Nicholas Jones
Apollo’s Fire burnt bright with the intensity of the mature Haydn and the brilliance of the young Mozart…this concert assembled a big band—almost thirty instrumentalists—fitting for late 18th-century operatic and symphonic literature. The investment in such a richness of talent paid off in an extraordinary mixture of precision, energy, and richness…This was Apollo’s Fire at its best: crisp, exciting, and beautifully transparent. Bass lines energized the music from below; in the middle, inner voices shone through with ease; oboes, flutes, and violins dazzled with rapid and always-varying intricacies. Music director Jeannette Sorrell—for these concerts, not conducting from the harpsichord— energized the entire group with forceful and intelligent leadership…in addition, we were treated to the stunning voice of soprano Amanda Forsythe, one of the stars in the constellation of young early-music opera singers.Read More
Apollo’s Fire and mesmerizing soprano illuminate music of Mozart and Haydn
by Donald Rosenberg
…it was an almost unqualified delight to hear… Mozart, especially as young wizard, received more attention than Haydn, but the pairing placed these towering composers and friends in striking perspective. Another irresistible aspect of the program was Amanda Forsythe, who is billed as a soprano but really must be considered an enchantress. She performed four arias, including Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” as an encore, with such beauty of tone, expressive depth and silken agility that all you could do was submit to the exquisite artistry… the performances exemplified Apollo’s Fire trademarks of clarity, dexterity and subtlety of nuance…In everything, the orchestra’s strings gleamed and scampered, the winds were poetic and alive, and the natural horns sounded noble and secure.Read More
Apollo’s Fire: Handel’s Messiah in Rocky River (December 16)
by Nicholas Jones
Jeannette Sorrell led a highly dramatic rendering of the piece that made the most of the theatrical basis of the music. Messiah takes us through a great and complicated plot… In the Apollo’s Fire performance, that plot was gripping at almost every moment…Meredith Hall’s clear and focused voice, coupled with her passionate delivery, were as close to heaven as I might imagine achieving in a concert hall or a church.Read More
Apollo’s Fire continues holiday offerings with Handel’s Messiah
by Donald Rosenberg
“Music Director Jeannette Sorrell… succeeded in drawing the audience into another world. While the performance Friday was sold out, the Apollo’s Fire forces… approached the piece as if they were telling the story for the first time. Sorrell shaped the score with an alert ear for expressive and dramatic nuance. Apollo’s Singers again explored a magnificent spectrum of shadings. From the lightest of touches to the majestic proclamations, the ensemble provided lucidity and fervor.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire revives wondrous ‘Celtic Christmas’ program
by Donald Rosenberg
Apollo’s Fire… has shown a welcome knack for crisscrossing between periods and genres. Nowhere is this more evident than in its smashing holiday presentation known as “Sacrum Mysterium,” or “Sacred Mystery – A Celtic Christmas.” Music director Jeannette Sorrell devised the program last year with Sylvain Bergeron, artistic director of Ensemble La Nef of Montreal, and it’s back this season in a version that confirms the brilliance and poignancy of the concept. At Friday’s concert, Sorrell joined… the orchestra’s crackerjack chorus, in a performance at turns mellifluous, cozy and raucous. How can such qualities share the same stage? Sorrell and Bergeron created a narrative that weaves together ancient art and folk traditions with a keen blend of reverence and rousing personality. The sound of a distant bagpipe introduces the evening, with the chorus and soprano Meredith Hall processing down the central aisle. What follows is a mesmerizing array of seasonal delights, which Sorrell and company perform with a special mix of sophistication and zest. The orchestra’s superb CD and DVD of the program have just been released by Avie Records. It likely will keep listeners glued to their speakers or earbuds for decades to come. But seeing “Sacred Mystery” is an altogether different and wondrous experience…Read More
Apollo’s Fire and guests exult in Baroque ‘blues’
by Donald Rosenberg
There wasn’t a moment during the program Apollo’s Fire presented Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights when the mind or ears wandered from the delectable music and enchanting performances….Sorrell, always quick to make connections between music of distant eras, imagined the program as a night at a blues café in 1610. These particular blues were conjured by much-heralded composers, such as Claudio Monteverdi and Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and others of less renown but equal spunk and poetry…Throughout the night, the Apollo’s Fire musicians had a grand time playing old-time blues with their guests – soprano Snaidas, tenor haute-contre Karim Sulayman, tenor Oliver Mercer and baritone Jeffrey Strauss. Snaidas was an expressive marvel in Monteverdi’s “Lamento Della Ninfa” and coquettish delight in Barbara Strozzi’s “L’Amante Secreto.”Read More
Apollo’s Fire’s Passacaglia Baroque Blues Club opens for the weekend in Cleveland
by Timothy Robson
One of the enchanting aspects of Apollo’s Fire’s concerts…are their stage presentation and director Jeanette Sorrell’s fluency in making even fairly obscure concerts and music interesting to a general audience, as well as those versed in early music…Ms. Sorrell structured the program around the idea of the blues club, in which the singers and instrumentalists came and went from the stage, danced, and participated in the “party” at hand… Just as when one goes to a fun party, this was a delightful evening spent at the Apollo’s Fire Baroque Blues Club…And the passacaglia turned out not to be the least bit dull.Read More
Apollo’s Fire and Zimmermann’s Coffee
by Tom Marks
Apollo’s Fire brought to Kansas City the taste of delightful German Kaffee Saturday night with their concert, “A Night at Zimmermann’s Café” for the Friends of Chamber Music. The program was comprised of music inspired by the eighteenth-century Leipziger Gottfried Zimmermann and his famous coffee house. Throughout the concert, an air of tasteful historicism, free from pedantry, circulated amid the theater as artistic director and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell enlightened listeners between pieces to the broader cultural context of the music’s role and its essential place among coffee-house musicians. With works by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi, the Cleveland-based ensemble brought the baroque’s characteristic contrasts of formal niceties and the heated passions to the stage, effectively reconstructing the intimate Kaffeehaus in the Folly Theater.
The program began with a concerto by one of Zimmerman’s most famous patrons, J. S. Bach. The Concerto for Two Violins in D minor opened the night and was headed by Oliver Brault and Johanna Novom. The overall approach to Bach’s double concerto was fresh and exciting.
Opening the concert’s second half was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050. The concertino included Jeanette Sorrell on harpsichord, Oliver Brault on violin, and Kathie Stewart on the transverse flute. The small group had great chemistry together and an intuitive sense of ensemble. The highest praise should be given to Sorrell for her execution of the extended cadenza near the end of the first movement. Sorrell played with impeccable precision, all the while maintaining full control of the cadenza’s momentum. Most impressive was Sorrell’s intentional exploitation of the numerous cadence points in the cadenza where, when coupled with the section’s relentless rhythm, draw the ear toward an expected conclusion only to be thrown into more and more tumultuous churning.
The night closed with an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Variations on “La Follia,” originally scored for two violins and continuo, but transcribed by Sorrell for orchestra in concerto grosso setting. The impressive showpiece left the audience buzzing (without the influence of caffeine) and brought them to their feet at the concert’s conclusion. The ensemble’s overall ability to simply have fun while making good music, paired with their stellar technical abilities, contributed to an excellent concert—one which was fuelled by historical research but never managed to neglect the basic human elements inherent in the music.Read More
Apollo’s Fire: Brandenburg Concertos at Fairmount Presbyterian (October 13)
by Nicholas Jones
I would guess that most classical-music concertgoers know Bach’s Brandenburg concertos pretty well. But hearing Apollo’s Fire play three of them this weekend was, for me, to hear them new. What was new? Most obviously, the instruments. In Brandenburg #1, two hunting horns brought their raucous, forest flavor indoors…Here, Paul Avril and Todd Williams were the hornists, mastering these unwieldy beasts with utter aplomb…the second aspect of what was new: the skill level of the performances… Sorrell outdid herself in the stunning solo [of Brandenburg #5], generating a tightly wound energy in the passagework that spilled out into a roller coaster of almost terrifyingly dizzying scales.Read More
Apollo’s Fire opens season with three Brandenburgs of Bach
by Donald Rosenberg
Audiences have come to expect surprises from Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, which is one reason the ensemble is so popular. Music director Jeannette Sorrell’s programs are inventive and instructive, and the musicians never sound like they’re performing artistic chores.Read More
A good dose of Irish traditions
by Zachary Lewis
Don’t look to the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea if it’s a genuine, well-rounded and singular Irish experience you seek this summer. Rather, go to the Baroque Music Barn in Hunting Valley. Go to Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village. Go to Geauga Lyric Theater in Chardon. Go anywhere, really, this weekend where Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is presenting “Celtic Crossings: Songs and Stories of the Irish-American Journey.” A sampling of Irish traditional music, dancing and storytelling, performed by experts and natives, the program, part of the orchestra’s “Countryside Concerts,” is a substantial and highly effective dose of culture only a leisurely trip around the Emerald Isle, complete with pints of Guinness, could top.Read More
Apollo’s Fire presents a lithe, beguiling production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”
by Donald Rosenberg
Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is such a smorgasbord of whimsy and mysticism that musicians and stage directors never run out of ways to interpret the opera. Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, has trimmed the score, libretto and theatrics for its production this week at three locations. In doing so, music director Jeannette Sorrell and superb colleagues have created a lithe “Magic Flute” of captivating and touching vibrancy… Stage director Linda Brovsky and choreographer Carlos Fittante came up with delightful solutions to some of the opera’s theatrical puzzles…Sorrell shaped the score with a knowing blend of momentum and elasticity, drawing lucid playing from her remarkable period-instrument orchestra and making glittery contributions at the keyed glockenspiel to depict Papageno’s magic bells…Nearly two decades ago, Apollo’s Fire made its debut in Mozart’s Requiem. Isn’t it just like this most generous of composers to help Sorrell and company celebrate their 20th anniversary in such rousing and eloquent fashion?Read More
Classical Fireworks: A Fine Champagne by J. Á. Vela del Campo It was immediately obvious that the evening would be a party, with fireworks in style. And indeed it was… A standing ovation, as rarely happens at the Royal Theatre. The shadow of the American Louis Armstrong was evoked in spirit to perfection by his compatriots from Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra, thanks to some dazzling variations on the trio sonata “La Follia” by Vivaldi. These musicians rejuvenated the baroque for us with the spirit of jazz, and the joy of playing together… Jeannette Sorrell conducted from the harpsichord with great precision, sensitivity and femininity. It was one of those evenings that leaves you wanting more.Read More
“Fireworks” Lofted by a French Countertenor
by Jeremy Eichler
Easily one of the most enjoyable concerts of the season…. Part of the evening’s success also flowed from the sense of artistic collaboration, as Apollo’s Fire here was far more than a backup band. The group without Jaroussky played two Vivaldi concertos on the first half and later pulled out Sorrell’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s “La Follia’’ trio sonata, uncorking it like a Baroque party piece, dashed off from memory. These excellent young musicians take a highly gestural approach to phrasing and bring across their music with an exuberant physicality, like wind through a forest.Read More
Jaroussky Dazzles in Arias Raised from Opera’s Splendid Shipwrecks
by Robert Everett-Green
Apollo’s Fire’s flair for drama was perhaps best displayed in a grand rumpus performance of Sorrell’s arrangement of La Follia, from a Vivaldi triosonata. This party piece, played from memory, featured many steep and rapid changes in tone, texture and rhythmic character. One of the most interesting and rewarding recitals of the season.Read More
German recorder player shares wild, crazy and mirthful night with Apollo’s Fire
by Donald Rosenberg
Baroque music is openly amenable to transformation. Even composers of the period were happy to borrow (sometimes from themselves) and tweak to suit an artist or a performance situation.
So it was no surprise to find that virtually everything on the program Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, offered Friday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights was an arrangement. What was surprising, and often delightful, was the rambunctious nature of much of the music-making.
The guest director was German recorder player Matthias Maute, who devised a program titled “Bach, Telemann & the Bohemian Gypsies.” What, you may ask, do gypsies have to do with Bach and Telemann? Possibly nothing in the case of the former and something in the case of the latter.
The works Maute brought along did prove how mutable the music is. The two Bach concertos for recorder were Maute arrangements of harpsichord pieces. Apollo’s Fire music director Jeannette Sorrell, who served as the program’s luxuriant harpsichordist, exerted “revenge” by arranging a Telemann recorder polonaise for her instrument.
It took a while to get used to the Bach concertos as shaped by Maute, who favors lickety-split tempos that almost make you dizzy. In Bach’s “Italian Concerto,” he created an eruptive sense of motion in the first movement while managing the virtuoso writing with easy assurance. Things settled down in the slow movement, to which Maute applied a spectrum of expressive nuances, and became rollicking in the final Presto.
Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D minor was another vehicle for Maute to display remarkable facility and breath control, despite some clipped phrases and overly emphatic gestures.
The gypsy portions of the evening were drawn from the Uhrovska manuscript, so named for the Slovakian town where the music was found. As arranged by Maute, these exuberant and moody pieces are intriguing glimpses into the world of itinerant musicians who added local flavors to their sonic stews.
In one piece, Maute rolled his eyes like a mad scientist, played in animated unison with the strings and encouraged the violins to go at the music as if they were lusty country fiddlers. In another, violinist Olivier Brault – who’ll serve as concertmaster of Apollo’s Fire for the 2011-12 season – took wild Hungarian flight, sending the intricacies into charismatic orbit.
There was also a Sorrell arrangement of a piece by a “Baroque” composer named Maute (yes, the same), Concerto delle Zingari for Harpsichord, Recorder and Violin. With roots planted in the world of gypsies (zingari), it’s a fair facsimile of an old score, with foot stomping, a Celtic-hued slow movement and a folksy final dance complete with ensemble shout of “Hey!”
Maute teamed here vibrantly with Sorrell and Brault (playing an adorable violino piccolo) and then shared the stage with traverso (transverse flute) player Kathie Stewart in Telemann’s Concerto in E minor for Traverso and Recorder. The program’s only score not arranged, it received a performance of wide dynamic swings, stately phrasing and no-hold-barred gusto.Read More
Apollo’s Fire brings Handel’s “Messiah” into warm and dramatic focus
by Donald Rosenberg
In the biggest hit of his fruitful career, “Messiah,” George Frideric Handel applied an especially buoyant touch to the words “rejoice greatly.”
Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, heeds those words to special effect throughout its performance of Handel’s oratorio. But music director Jeannette Sorrell, the orchestra, Apollo’s Singers and a vocal quartet also rejoice intimately.
For its “Messiah” this year, Apollo’s Fire fields 20 instrumentalists and 27 singers. That’s a far cry from the days when gargantuan forces – hundreds or even thousands – wrapped limbs, embouchures and larynxes around the work’s beloved music.
A “Messiah” on a small scale can sound either meager or intensely dramatic, depending on the depth of vision the musicians bring to Handel’s score. As performed by Sorrell and company Thursday at First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland in Shaker Heights, the oratorio was catapulted into immediate and dramatic focus.
Audiences only rarely have the opportunity to hear “Messiah” complete, as Apollo’s Fire is offering the work this weekend. Along with the famous selections, including the adored “Hallelujah Chorus,” the oratorio contains a host of delectable pieces that help connect the listener to the story of Christ.
Sorrell, serving both as conductor and harpsichordist, reduces “Messiah” to its ample essence by treating the score as a series of stark contrasts. Nothing is taken for granted in terms of phrasing, gradation or tempo. The flexibility and suavity of the ensemble’s expert period-instrument players allow details to emerge that put Handel’s creation in fresh perspective.
At Thursday’s performance, Sorrell and her colleagues reveled in nuances, sometimes going to extremes to convey emotional transformations. In “All We, Like Sheep,” the fleetness of the opening section gave way to almost motionless consideration of the ensuing dark sentiments.
The reverse also occurred. The score’s final “Amen” moved from rapt utterance to glorious exultation, like a flower sprouting and blossoming before our ears. It didn’t hurt that the orchestra’s articulate chorus, Apollo’s Singers, can shift gears from buttery smoothness to golden strength at the flick of a vocal cord.
The solo quartet is one of the most impressive Apollo’s Fire has amassed in recent seasons. Soprano Meredith Hall poured expressive grace and tonal shimmer into every line, while mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider brought bountiful warmth to her duties.
Ross Hauck proved brilliantly equal to the lyrical and dramatic tenor demands. Baritone Jeffrey Strauss’ noble account of “The Trumpet Shall Sound” with Baroque trumpeter Barry Bauguess was a highlight, as were contributions by violinists Olivier Brault and Johanna Novom.
A cosy hallelujah to all.Read More
Sophie Daneman, Apollo’s Fire: Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, Wigmore Hall
by Alexandra Coghlan
Visually charged, minutely stage-managed musical theatrics from Jeannette Sorrell and her irrepressible team of musicians… Utterly sensational, every phrase a Baroque curlicue dipped in gold and then embellished still further. Charismatic and boundlessly energetic… this is Baroque music in its unbuttoned state.Read More
Apollo’s Fire once again illuminates Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610”
by Donald Rosenberg
Apollo’s Fire music director Jeannette Sorrell rehearses the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra and Apollo’s Singers for this weekend’s performances of Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610.”
Musicians have to fill in so many blanks when approaching Claudio Monteverdi’s “Vespers of the Blessed Virgin” that it’s inevitable the results will vary according to interpretive discretion.
For her version of “Vespers of 1610,” titled to indicate publication date, Apollo’s Fire music director Jeannette Sorrell devised a score in 1998 that uses small vocal and instrumental forces to convey the halo of creativity Monteverdi achieved in his masterpiece.
The same version, with a few minor changes, is at the heart of the 400th-anniversary edition of the “Vespers,” which Sorrell, her Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, Apollo’s Singers and a vibrant array of guest vocalists are offering to open the ensemble’s 19th season.
The performance Saturday at First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland in Shaker Heights was one of those occasions when Monteverdi’s musical inspiration gripped ears, heart and soul.
Sorrell conducted the “Vespers” here in 1998 and 2001 before putting the score away until the current run. In the years since she last shaped the piece, her command of Monteverdi’s idiom has become both more subtle and more dramatic.
There were moments Saturday when Sorrell and her musicians seemed almost to disappear into the music, leaving Monteverdi to console, stir and elevate with the psalms, motets, hymn and Magnificat that make up the “Vespers.”
To these sections, Sorrell added a procession – celebratory drum leading the vocal soloists and conductor down the center aisle – and antiphons (chants sung a cappella by male singers) to connect the texts.
The beauty and majesty that lie on every page of the score were treated with utmost care, detail and space by the Apollo’s Fire forces in the church’s sometimes foggy acoustics.
Members of Apollo’s Singers, the ensemble’s chorus, were on constant alert to gauge dynamics to heighten the music’s expressive qualities. The decay of sound on “Amen” at the end of Psalm 126 was a spellbinding example of the color that Sorrell and company often brushed onto Monteverdi’s palette.
But the performance was not about destinations on a journey. As set forth by these musicians, the experience was about the journey itself – an expansive voyage in which instruments fleshed out the rich thematic and harmonic language as the singers conveyed liturgical meaning.
Along the way, the music-making ranged from intimate (featuring those disarming long-necked lutes known as theorbos) to regal, with Monteverdi’s juxtaposition of sacred and amorous texts providing ample contrast.
The vocal soloists brought stylish urgency to their duties, especially the fervent tenors (Zachary Wilder and Richard Edgar-Wilson, echoing one another in several sections) and gleaming sopranos (Terri Richter and Nell Snaidas).
The period-instrument players of Apollo’s Fire were at their most purposefully virtuosic, drawing attention to Monteverdi either when producing mellow cushions of sound or extravagant flourishes.
In 1998 and 2001, “Vespers of 1610” was one of the high points in our musical year. The same is likely to hold true for 2010.Read More
Apollo’s Fire turns vast Cain Park amphitheatre into intimate space
by Donald Rosenberg
Apollo’s Fire and guests made their Cain Park debut June 25 performing “Come to the River: An Early American Gathering.” The performers, front from left, are Scott Mello, Abigail Haynes Lennox, Matthew Olwell, Jeannette Sorrell, Sandy Simon, Paul Shipper and Tina Bergmann.
It’s business as usual to find pop musicians captivating a crowd at Cain Park. Most of the performers who make a stop at the Cleveland Heights venue hail from the pop, jazz and folk fields.
So the presence of a stellar troupe of singers and instrumentalists digging into down-home fare on a recent Friday night at Cain Park shouldn’t have seemed so out of the ordinary. Well, it was and it wasn’t.
The musicians were members of Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, and guests. A Baroque ensemble in Cain Park’s vast Evans Amphitheater? Not so fast. This wasn’t a program of Monteverdi or Bach, although that would have been welcome.
Instead, music director Jeannette Sorrell and early-music colleagues made their Cain Park debut performing a crossover program, “Come to the River: An Early American Gathering,” for a large, happy crowd. The menu of Southern folk dances, Appalachian tunes and shape-note hymns has been a big summertime success for Apollo’s Fire in area churches and concert halls.
Taking the program to an alfresco setting in Cleveland Heights was taking a risk. After all, the musicians play period instruments, the type composers of bygone areas would have known, and normally perform minus amplification.
The subtleties that Apollo’s Fire brings to Baroque repertoire could have been lost in the open spaces at Cain Park. And how would musicians who concentrate on concertos, symphonies and other concert works of ancient origin come across in short selections that are less formal in design?
Just fine, it turned out. The results at Cain Park were exhilarating. For one thing, the amplification system was so beautifully unobtrusive that the musicians sounded natural, without any need to force. Somehow, a true sense of intimacy existed between stage and audience, reflecting the “gathering” aspect of the program’s title.
Apollo’s Fire spent the days leading up to Cain Park offering the program at smaller venues. By the time they ambled onto the Evans stage in jeans and sandals, they’d honed the music to a high gloss and perfected the interactions that made the narrative so entrancing.
Much ado is made about classical or pop artists venturing into musical territory with which they aren’t regularly identified. Remember “Classical Barbara,” the mismatch of Barbra Streisand and the likes of Debussy, Faure and friends? Or, coming from another direction, Renee Fleming, a champion of Strauss and operatic peers, completely altering her sumptuous soprano to suit the rock tunes on her newest album, “Dark Hope”?
Where Apollo’s Fire and traditional American music are concerned, the crossover phenomenon isn’t nearly as extreme — or even an issue. The players and singers, joined by hammered-dulcimer virtuoso Tina Bergmann and body percussionists Matthew Olwell and Emily Oleson, treated this repertoire with the same expressive generosity they bring to Baroque pieces.
Along with emotional depth, they reveled in the narrative’s goofy and surprising humor, whether evoking a covered-wagon journey — quite a bumpy ride, as depicted by the plucky vocal quartet — or engaging in homicidal activity. (Cellist Rene Schiffer, shot by “Wild Bill Jones,” proved an ace comic returning from the dead.)
The Cain Park program marked another coup for an organization that continues to spread its Apollonian wings. Sorrell and company will do so in a massive way in November, when they make their European debut.
No crossing over will be necessary, except to traverse the Atlantic. Music by Baroque masters Vivaldi, Tartini, Monteclair and Handel will preside.Read More
Concert Report: Apollo’s Fire -” Come to the River” at Huntington Playhouse
by Nicholas Jones
What an endlessly inventive group is Apollo’s Fire! Their current offering, “Come to the River,” billed as “An Early American Gathering,” combines drama, personal recollection, American musical and religious history, and a corncrib full of music. Baroque meets bluegrass, and gospel, and shaped-note, and Celtic, and . . . .
Somewhat changed from last year’s sell-out version, this is a show that clearly delighted all ages (kids, oldsters, and — gasp!– even teenagers). At the matinee at Huntington Playhouse, the revival gathering may not have converted any souls, though Lake Erie’s beaches were at hand for a baptism if it had been needed, but it won a bunch of hearts, judging from the foot-tapping, hand-clapping, and vigorous audience sing-along at the end.
Jeannette Sorrell’s stamp, as with all of Apollo’s Fire, is unmistakable here. It’s she who frames the collection of fiddle-tunes, gospel songs, ballads, and other surprises around her own experiences as a teenager playing piano for a revival church in the Shenandoah Valley. Being an accomplished historian of music, as well as performer and impresario, Sorrell has researched the roots of the tradition in Appalachian barn dances, frontier shoot-em-up songs, shaped-note hymns, and those incomparable American melancholic tunes like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “What Wondrous Love.”
This being Apollo’s Fire, what might be called corny is also highly accomplished. The artfulness of the performances is evident even while the performers and the audience are having great fun. Watching the stunning cellist René Schiffer stagger to the ground as the two-timing Wild Bill Jones is a hoot; it’s quite another thing, though, to hear Schiffer play his own variations on “Old Virginny,” as a reflection on Scott Mello’s heart-rending rendition of the beautiful sad ballad.
The barn dances that begin the show are simply wonderful: varied, expressive, full of the rhythmic energy we have come to love in Apollo’s Fire performances. Tina Bergmann plays the dulcimer with a combination of the early American and the new Celtic sound; baritone Paul Shipper — also a wonderful “preacher” — does a stunning rendition of a 1609 English lullaby; flutist Kathie Stewart leads a set of traditional Irish dances with a melancholy sound full of the Emerald Isle.
Even the harpsichord — not unknown in early America — plays its part in a set of dances from New England and Ireland; here, as in many of the sets, the soloist (Sorrell) claims the stage for a solo and then subtly hands off the energy to others who join her. The eventual ensemble playing, with running bass lines, obbligato roulades on top, and a relentless percussive energy, made up for the fact that we couldn’t actually get up and dance in the aisles.
Sopranos Sandra Simon gave us a number of songs; one of the most memorable was her “Fox on a Chilly Night,” accompanied only by Sorrell on the bodhran, sung with such articulation and delivery that no one needed the printed text to understand what the story was. She was joined by tenor Scott Mello and soprano Abigail Haynes Lennox in a gripping lullaby, “Nobody but the Baby,” from a field recording by the great folkmusic collector Alan Lomax. Fiddler Rachel Jones was collaborator with Lennox in a very moving “Wayfaring Stranger.”
Apollo’s Fire has taught us in their baroque concerts how corporeal baroque music was. In this program, the barn dances and fiddle tunes were given real “body” by the very accomplished body-percussion artist Matthew Olwell, whose fast-moving feet, hands, chest, arms, and even mouth, were his tympani and his marimba.
A great moment in the second half, which centers on a revival meeting, was Apollo’s rendition of “Hold On,” the great civil rights gospel song that Mahalia Jackson and Pete Seeger sang. Sorrell and Schiffer let loose with a bass line that made us think there might be an electric guitar in the wings.
The series of shaped-note hymns in the second half was the least convincing part of the program; the singers seemed a little glued to their part-books, with this unfamiliar and fascinating style. Even so, I loved hearing these modal harmonies, and the set provided a welcome reflective period in an otherwise high-energy afternoon.
Bravo to the group for finding such varied venues, and for traveling around Northeast Ohio to bring this music near to us. And bravo for having the spectacular and vivacious juggler Aaron Bonk (whose card lists him as “Object Manipulation Specialist”) on hand to greet us and to give a show at intermission.
You can still see “Come to the River” Tuesday in Painesville, Thursday in Bath, and Friday at Cain Park.Read More
Apollo’s Fire applies buoyant and tender touch to country fare
by Donald Rosenberg
Members of Apollo’s Fire, including music director Jeannette Sorrell, perform “Come to the River – An Early American Gathering” at various locations Northeast Ohio through Friday.
Jeannette Sorrell’s Cleveland Baroque Orchestra is known best as Apollo’s Fire, even when the musicians diverge from their normal period-instrument activities.
The ensemble takes such a detour every summer during their Countryside Concerts to glory in music of folk persuasion. Given the dominant nature of the offerings, perhaps the group should assume the temporary moniker Appalachia’s Fire.
Apollonian or Appalachian, Sorrell’s versatile band of singers and instrumentalists once again extracts all of the exuberant and tender juice from the homespun selections in “Come to the River – An Early American Gathering.”
The program is a slightly revised version of last year’s initial presentation. The new incarnation places more emphasis on Sorrell’s reminiscences as teenaged pianist at a Southern Baptist church and refocuses the tale of a preacher and company on the way to a revival meeting.
Many pieces from the original program are here again. But Sorrell has added tunes and guest artists to bring more sonic and visual interest to the narrative.
What makes the program such an enchanted evening is the truthful grace and vitality that harpsichordist Sorrell and colleagues apply to their tantalizing Southern fare. The Appalachian pieces that pervade the opening “Shenandoah Valley Memories” provide poignant and playful views of Sorrell’s experience as a young musician.
Tina Bergmann sends glowing sonorities dancing from her hammered dulcimer, while Sandra Simon extracts every delicious nuance from “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.” Simon harmonizes sweetly with Scott Mello and Abigail Haynes Lennox in the lullaby “Nobody But the Baby.” Flutist Kathie Stewart and violinist Rachel Jones do shining work.
The preacher is portrayed to stentorian perfection by Paul Shipper, as sonorous singing bass as he is sensitive strumming guitar. Scott Mello, playing a young man sowing his oats, is deeply affecting bewailing the loss of his girl. Once Rene Schiffer plays an achingly expressive cello solo, Mello turns violent in “Wild Bill Jones,” shoots the cellist and is hauled off to jail.
Redemption comes during the revival meeting, a potpourri of spirituals and shape-note hymns sung to the lilting hilt by the entire company, with the audience joining in for a soothing “Down in the River to Pray.”Read More
The old and the modern make a marvelous Apollo’s Fire match
by Donald Rosenberg
It’s easy to get bogged down in a debate about period vs. modern instruments. Does music sound best when the performers are playing instruments the composer might have known? There’s no simple answer.
Apollo’s Fire found itself (unwittingly) addressing the issue this week when the 1877 Bluthner piano it was set to use in Mozart concerts came under the technical weather due to the Ohio weather. In that historic instrument’s place, Sergei Babayan chose a modern Steinway grand tuned slightly down to match the pitch of Jeannette Sorrell’s Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.
The glorious results Saturday at Severance Hall confirmed that intelligent musicians on the same wavelength handily surmount matters of equipment. Babayan, Sorrell and the orchestra treated Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 with intense and poetic expressivity, forcing thoughts of sonic hybridization from our ears.
The performance, part of the Mozart Celebration with which Apollo’s Fire is ending its 18th season, was a model meeting of knowing and sensitive artists. Babayan scaled his playing to complement the orchestra’s lean elegance and the score’s nuanced demands.
In terms of articulation and balance, pianist and ensemble were of like stylistic minds. Babayan paid keen attention to Mozart’s dramatic needs, shaping phrases with urgent or tender subtlety and gauging dynamics to heighten the music’s changing qualities. The slow movement was often so hushed that it sounded like a dream sequence.
Sorrell and the orchestra were bold, sympathetic and precise collaborators. The winds made winning contributions in the finale’s variations. With Babayan and friends in most refined and eloquent form, Mozart was the winner.
The composer also received his due in the night’s other works, which had the characteristic Apollo’s Fire stamps of finesse, clarity and surprise. Sorrell led an account of the Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”) of uncommon vibrancy and variety.
The opening movement, frequently rushed, unfolded with spacious and flexible grandeur, its sudden breaths held to allow the music to re-energize itself. In the Menuetto, Sorrell emphasized the contrasts of brightness and lilt, and the Presto finale shot out of the instruments, especially those remarkably fleet violins, in bursts of sonic excitement.
The program began and ended with excerpts from “Idomeneo,” an early opera of mythological bent. Sorrell leaned into the overture’s turbulent gestures, drawing Apollonian sparks from her ensemble.
At the other end of the night, conductor and players welcomed dancers Carlos Fittante and Robin Gilbert-Campos to take part in ballet music from the opera. Dressed in sumptuous 18th-century garb, they lavished elegant gifts on courtly dances suggesting romantic and terrifying narratives, including a battle between prince and sea monster.
Behind them, Apollo’s Fire gave sprightly, shimmering voice to the score, which they also perform on a new compact disc.
What Mozartian adventures lie ahead? Let’s hope Sorrell and company continue to explore the composer’s output – even, perhaps, with the team of Babayan and Steinway.Read More
Apollo’s Fire Bach program confirms patriach’s primacy
by Donald Rosenberg
Enlightenment and entertainment have been key elements for Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, and music director Jeannette Sorrell throughout their 18-year history.
A prime example is “Bach Family Fireworks,” the ensemble’s program this month. Sorrell invited two engaging actors, George Roth and Tom White, to serve as narrative glue during a potpourri of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and sons Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich. Maybe another title would have been more apt: “Father Knows Best.”
Living with a genius, it seems, can be a challenge. Papa Bach, though conservative in musical style, reached peaks of artistic perfection his sons never approached. This truth was self-evident Friday at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights whenever Apollo’s Fire probed music by J.S., particularly the Violin Concerto in A minor.
The soloist was Julie Andrijeski, who is accomplished both as Baroque violinist and dancer. She didn’t trip the light fantastic here, but she certainly made dramatic passages dance and the slow movement’s transcendent phrases float. Every phrase was imbued with expressive nuance, and Andrijeski and colleagues shaded the music through a spectrum of dynamics.
Sorrell conducted the program from the harpsichord with back to audience, except when she appeared as glistening soloist in back-to-back performances of works by J.S. and W.F.
The latter, the master’s oldest son, was a promising composer but only partly a chip of the old Bach block, as Sorrell made clear in a meandering Fantasia in D minor. The finale from a violin sonata in the same key by J.S. revealed his command of form and rhetoric.
Two younger sons fared better. J.C.F.’s Sinfonia in D minor contains lively thematic discussion, along with a lilting slow movement featuring muted violins and violas. Dramatic and harmonic surprises abound in C.P.E. Bach’s Symphony No. 5 in B minor, with sudden loud chords and stormy gestures to add distinctive personality.
Sorrell and the orchestra gave these works the same crisp focus and flexibility they applied to pieces by J.S. Robust harmonic underpinning was provided by cellist Rene Schiffer, who also shaped a richly dignified account of the Allemande from the Sixth Unaccompanied Cello Suite.
In reconstructive mode, Sorrell tweaked a neglected J.S. Bach concerto for three harpsichords into a version for three violins in D major. The virtuoso delights and lyrical lines were handled with equal aplomb by soloists Olivier Brault, Johanna Novom and Adriane Post.
Amid the Bachian activity, Roth played an exasperated and endearing Johann Sebastian to White’s charming and moody Bach sons. They made topical hay of recent local events with references to a “strike” and “winter residency” and “top 5” orchestra.
At the end, with labor matters settled, the Bachs and Sorrell danced off to South Beach to the tune of the Habanera from “Carmen.” Dipping into Romantic repertoire may be a stretch for a Baroque orchestra, but where the endlessly inventive Apollo’s Fire is concerned, this is Bizet-ness as usual.Read More
Apollo’s Fire does Praetorius proud
by Donald Rosenberg
With all due respect to George Frideric Handel, “Messiah” doesn’t hold a monopoly on music that generates holiday rapture.
Among the frigid-weather concert pieces for which local audiences are responding with hallelujah-like fervor is “Christmas Vespers,” a potpourri of music by Michael Praetorius and friends that Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, has made a biennial event.
And an Event with a capital E it surely is, as the ensemble’s performance of this sonic feast confirmed Friday at First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights. The work requires massive forces to realize music director Jeannette Sorrell’s vision of Praetorius’ strikingly varied creations for the Christmas season.
Along with adult chorus (the stunning Apollo’s Singers) and youth chorus (the dulcet Apollo’s Musettes), Sorrell presides over a period-instrument orchestra of strings, winds, brasses and timpani, as well as a prime group of vocal soloists. Think of Cecil B. DeMille in Baroque musical terms and you get the drift.
If no chariot races or parting of Red Seas dazzle the eyes here, there is an enlightening array of moving, haunting and buoyant instrumental and vocal riches to beguile the ears and show Praetorius (1571-1621) to be a master of small and large forms.
The German composer, like Baroque colleagues, trusted performers to figure out how to compel the notes to leap from the page. Sorrell compiled “Christmas Vespers” from many Praetorius sources and made thousands of decisions in terms of instrumentation, tempos and dynamics. Her version unfolds in two parts, starting with a Lutheran Advent service and continuing with a Vespers service for Christmas Day.
In keeping with her imaginative and expressive bent, Sorrell achieves dramatic contrast through the juxtaposition of grand and intimate forces, supple and potent phrasing, and a journey from a cappella reverence (via a Martin Luther chorale) to Praetorius’ ecstatic setting of “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice.”
The graciously reverberant acoustics at First Baptist Church proved well-nigh ideal to caress or radiate whatever Sorrell and company offered. In the hymn “Wachet auf!”, choruses and vocal soloists set the music aloft in tandem with extravagant cornetto flourishes played to the hilt by Bruce Dickey and Kiri Tollaksen.
The trio “Ach, mein Herr” was achingly beautiful in the pitch-perfect account that sopranos Kiera Duffy, Sandra Simon and Nell Snaidas shaped into one of the work’s highlights. Each of these stellar artists made shining contributions throughout the program alone or teamed with vibrant colleagues – mezzo-soprano Kirsten Sollek, tenors Scott Mello and Marc Molomot and bass Paul Shipper.
On a set of more youthful notes, triumph emanated from Apollo’s Musettes, including solos by Madeline Apple Healey, Ashley Lingenhoel and Peter Simon.
Praetorius, lucky man, also was honored through instrumental prowess that is an Apollo’s Fire given. Silken and fiery strings, mellow winds, noble brasses, lustrous pipe organ and pinpoint drums contributed grandeur to a holiday tradition that is prompting listeners to rejoice.Read More
Apollo’s Fire brings the sweet joy of Praetorius to Trinity Cathedral
by Daniel Hathaway
Jeannette Sorrell brought the alternately dazzling and charming music of Michael Praetorius to life once again at Trinity Cathedral on Thursday evening, in her compilation program, “Christmas Vespers” — with a little help from Apollo’s Fire’s 20 instrumentalists, 27 adult singers and the 15 young vocalists who make up Apollo’s Musettes. And a near-capacity crowd of happy listeners.
Her sidespeople comprised six string players, including viola da gamba, a wind band of ten (recorders, cornetti, Trumpets, three sackbuts and percussionist) a continuo group of four (count them: three long-necked lutes or theorbos! — in addition to organ and harpsichord (Sorrell herself) and seven soloists who moved in and out of the choir during the complicated choreography that brought the right people to the right place for each variously scored piece.
Mostly drawn from the collection called Polyhymnia caduceatrix, compiled in 1619, two years before the composer’s death at the age of 50, but also using material from his Musica Sionae, Puericinium and the dance collection Terpsichore, the program ranged from the simple (chant and liturgical snippets, stark, early Lutheran chorales sung in unison and M.P.’s greatest hit, Lo, how a rose) to the fascinating polychoral complexity of works in the Venetian ceremonial style (Gloria sei Gott, and In Dulci Jubilo).
In between, we were treated to such treasures from Praetorius’ vast music collection as the striking Ach, mein Herre for three sopranos, viols and theorbos, the colorful Magnificat (centerpiece of Vespers but here oddly divided into two parts separated by the Morning Star carol and characterized by cute word-painting gestures) and a folksy setting of the Ten Commandments nicely sung by four of the Musettes (who were deployed in various ways throughout the evening). Those and a set of dances from Terpsichore no Lutheran congregation one would have encountered during a service in Praetorius’ day. But, hey, Jeannette Sorrell’s program notes stated very clearly that her “primary goal has been to create a vivid and compelling concert experience” rather than a recreation of “Vespers in Wolfenbüttel on Christmas Day in 1618″. The dances were fun. The well-arranged program book with complete texts and translations made it easy to navigate through the wealth of musical material.
Arranged on the platform under Trinity’s central tower, Sorrell’s forces were probably in the least favorable acoustic position in the space, which contributed to a certain diffuseness of sound throughout the evening. It helped to put soloists (cornetti as well as singers) in the pulpit and lectern where they achieved some profile over the rest of the ensemble, and there were some good gestures toward using the space creatively (trumpets and drum called the audience to attention with a fanfare from the back of the nave after intermission, and the chorus circled the audience in the nave for the closing In Dulci Jubilo).
Particularly fine contributions to the performance came from the cornetti — Apollo’s Fire was lucky to be able to field one of the world’s best players, Bruce Dickey — and from the violins (Johanna Novom and Julie Andrijeski), who had a dauntingly crazy cadential duet to play at the end of the first half. The soloists were given some tricky assignments as well, dealing with many words both in Latin and German, and having to sing some very challenging melismas during the course of some of the Venetian inspired pieces. Sopranos Kiera Duffy, Sandra Simon and Nell Snaidas gave an intensely dramatic account of the forementioned Ach, mein Herre, and alto Kirsten Sollek, tenors Marc Molomot and Scott Mello and bass Paul Shipper dispatched challenging lines of their own with cool professionalism. Soprano Peter Simon contributed some sweet, clear solos in the final piece, before which organist Peter Bennett dashed up to the cathedral’s big organ for a stylish performance of the chorale prelude Nun lob mein Seele.
Throughout, Jeannette Sorrell was a tireless traffic cop, keeping her sixty-two performers tidily in line with her baton, conducting only a few times from the harpsichord. Performing such complicated repertory in four different venues over five performances probably requires more rehearsal time than Apollo’s Fire has to spend in each acoustic. Given those conditions, the tightness of the ensemble on Thursday night was admirable, although some vocal and instrumental detail was obscured by the tricky acoustical challenges of performing in the Crossing.
But (as commentators always write at this juncture), these are quibbles. “Christmas Vespers” rises head and shoulders above most of the Christmas concert repertory audiences are likely to hear this month, and the music is completely delightful. Would that protestant church music in the 21st century had that compelling spirit and sense of joy. “In Dulci Jubilo, nun singet und seid froh” indeed! Thanks to Apollo’s Fire for unwrapping an early Christmas present five times this week.
PS. Wonder what a cornetto is and who plays this curious instrument? Stay in touch — we’ll be interviewing Bruce Dickey while he’s in town for a future issue of ClevelandClassical.Read More
Apollo’s Fire ‘jams’ into ‘Mediterranean Nights’
by Mark Kanny
Saturday night’s concert by Apollo Fire was inspired in all the ways one expects of this brilliantly led ensemble. But the smart choice of repertoire and the artistry to perform it memorably were supplemented by an over-arching sensibility absent from most “thematic” concerts.
The program was called “Mediterranean Nights” and had the festive spontaneity of an impromptu jam session.
The quietly haunting sounds of the old Spanish melody “The Song of the Birds” emerged from the back of Synod Hall in Oakland to open the concert with the beautiful playing of violinist Veronika Skuplik-Hein. When she reached the stage, other musicians joined her in a lovely arrangement by music director Jeannette Sorrell.
Soprano Nell Snaidas brought flair and sharply differentiated feeling to her singing, which included a lament and a fiercely dismissive song. She was duly subdued in a drolly humorous song about a woman confessing to breaking all Ten Commandments out of romantic passion — well, nine really, but she also confesses to feeling no repentance.
The musicians set up a deliciously inflected 6/8 rhythm for dancer Steve Player’s first solo, which was mainly Spanish in its focus on footwork, but added a little Italian flair in a twirling leap.
Sorrell combined two fandangos for the exuberant finale, in which Player and Snaidas danced with increasing affection. It’s been eight years since Apollo’s Fire last appeared at a Renaissance and Baroque Society’s concert. Let’s hope they’re back much sooner than that.Read More
Cohesive Apollo’s Fire brims with passion and precision
by Andrew Druckenbrod
Long before sampling became a staple of pop and dance music, the original musical loop served as the basis for music 500 years ago. These were called ground basses — short bass lines that repeated while the treble instruments or singers offered melodies and improvisation above. Think Pachelbel’s Canon, however, as a fantastic concert Saturday night at Synod Hall showed, he was a latecomer to this party
Not only that but, presented by the Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh, the Cleveland-based period ensemble Apollo’s Fire also showed how varied these bass lines got in 16th- and 17th-century Spain and Italy, different patterns of the ciacona (chaconne) and passacaglia, folia, fandango and lamento.
But what was truly brilliant about this concert of nine musicians (including guitars, violins, harpsichord/cello/theorbo continuo, percussion and singing) was that director Jeannette Sorrell didn’t “bass” it just on that. In fact, if they hadn’t mentioned that these lively songs and dances all had ground basses in common, few of us would have noticed. There was just too much fun layered on top to pay attention to.
It started with the spot-on, theatrical singing of soprano Nell Snaidas. Opera and madrigals didn’t have the stranglehold on dramatic and comedic song at this time, and Snaidas tapped into an expressive and sultry manner in such works as Benedetto Ferrari’s “Amanti, io vi so dire (Lovers, I can tell you),” Luigi Rossi’s “Lamento di Euridice” and Luis de Briceno’s hilarious “The Ten Commandments,” about a young woman who breaks all of them because of a man she loves. Her voice was resonant with a slightly dark timbre, yet nimble to navigate all manner of runs and ornaments.
The varied nature of this concert had many different musicians out in front at different times. Violinists Veronika Skuplik-Hein and Johanna Novom dueled in Marco Uccellini’s “Duo Bergamasca” and Sorrell performed a solo harpsichord folia by Bernardo Storace.
But none topped the period Spanish dancing of Steve Player, who stomped his feet and did 360-degree jump twirls (at one point while still wearing his expensive Spanish guitar on a strap).
Even with all this visual splendor, the cohesion of the players stood out. They took an understated approach, but low-volume performance didn’t mean low passion. This was best seen in the sophisticated percussion work of Rex Benincasa, a Pittsburgh native who really knew how to supply beat, color and texture without thrusting himself into the spotlight unless called for.Read More
Apollo’s Fire revels in sunlit Baroque repertoire
by Donald Rosenberg
Audiences have come to expect Apollo’s Fire to shed light on whatever music it prepares. This is certainly true when music director Jeannette Sorrell and her Cleveland Baroque Orchestra apply their period-instrument gifts to Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach and friends.
And it also happens when the ensemble ventures away from the Baroque mainstream, as they’re doing this week with selections by composers whose names don’t trip off most concertgoers’ tongues.
The program, “Mediterranean Nights: Sultry Songs & Passionate Dances from Italy & Spain,” features only three Apollo’s Fire regulars – harpsichordist Sorrell, violinist Johanna Novom, cellist Rene Schiffer – who appear over the moon to be collaborating with a quintet of equally inspired guests.
What this outstanding octet offered Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights was part music-history lesson, part improvisational “jam session” (as Sorrell termed it) and part exhilarating Baroque beach party. As performed with spontaneous sonic combustion, the program proved that scholarship and fun aren’t mutually exclusive.
Many of the pieces Sorrell chose have come down through the centuries without much indication as to how they should be performed. So Sorrell engaged a clever arranger named Sorrell to tie things together and give the musicians room for creative input.
En route, the performers made inventive journeys through traditional forms (chaconne, passacaglia, sonata) and offered romantic or racy songs, scorching dances and even a whimsical competition between harpsichord and guitar. The contest came near the program’s end as Sorrell and guitarist Steve Player attempted to outdo each another with fancy flourishes via a fandango by Santiago de Murcia.
Player spent most of the evening elegantly behind his guitar, though he also moved to center stage to click up his heels (literally) in impassioned and spinning Spanish dances. He was joined briefly on the dance floor in a traditional Spanish carol, “Riu, Riu, Chiu,” by soprano Nell Snaidas, who elsewhere lent blazing virtuosity and a wealth of expressive colors to alluring songs.
In one, Virgilio Mazzocchi’s “Sdegno, campion audace,” Snaidas spit out the first word (translation: disdain) and proceeded to fly through the florid material up to a brilliant high C. Elsewhere, she was piously irreverent (Luis de Briceno’s depiction of a woman who breaks all 10 commandments, reconstructed by guitarist Grant Herreid) and deeply affecting (Luigi Rossi’s “Lamento di Euridice”).
Throughout the program, guest violinist Veronika Skuplik-Hein served as charismatic soloist and fine team player with Novom, Herreid was suave both on lute and guitar (and, briefly, as tenor) and Rex Benincasa applied subtle majesty to a spectrum of percussion instruments.
To end the party, guitarist Player initiated a raucous Spanish song, whose subject was revealed when Sorrell began tossing around an onion and a rustic loaf of bread. With these and other prime Baroque ingredients, the meal couldn’t have been more delectable.Read More
Apollo’s Fire: One and a half ‘Glorias’ and three trumpets
by William Fazekas
Jeanette Sorrell is both a scholarly musicologist and a consummate musician. This past weekend, She could easily have presented an erudite paper, titled something along the lines of “The influence of Venetian church music on the choral style of J. S. Bach”; instead, Ms. Sorrell lead her period-performance orchestra and chorus Apollo’s Fire in a stunning series of concerts pairing Antonio Vivaldi’s well-known setting of the ‘Gloria’ (RV 589) with selections from the first section (Kyrie and Gloria) of the ‘Mass in B minor’ by J. S. Bach: a “Gloria and a half”, as it were. We heard the performance on Saturday, Oct. 3rd at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights.
Both works had become standard repertoire before the “period-performance” achieved popularity (in the 1970’s), and have been performed and recorded by both modern and baroque orchestras. Without hitting us over the head with them, the parallels between the two works are obvious: although the Bach Mass opens in his favorite key of B minor, much of the Gloria is, like Vivaldi’s setting, in the related key of D major — hardly a surprise, since that was the preferred key for the bright, valveless trumpets of the baroque, and each work employs three of them (with timpani, the usual complement for festive pieces in the 18th c.). Each features, in addition to the chorus, solo arias and duets by a soprano (here, Sandra Simon, who often sings with Apollo’s Fire), and mezzo-soprano (Meg Bragle). Indeed, both feature an aria for mezzo-soprano with the mellow-toned baroque oboe d’amore.
The Vivaldi setting is by far the shorter and simpler of the two compositions. Much of it is infused with Vivaldi’s typically zesty string writing, especially during the sections for full chorus; while the solo arias have a rather Handelian emphasis on vocal lyricism. This was underscored by Ms. Sorrell’s conducting techniques: She conducted the arias seated at the harpsichord and playing continuo, and the movements for full ensemble standing and with a baton, while the continuo was provided by organist Peter Bennett on a portative. The performance had fire and drive throughout, the passages with brass had a brilliant, shimmering quality, and precise attacks and cutoffs by all performers imbued rests with as much energy as notes.
That J. S. Bach was familiar with and impressed by the music of Vivaldi is a well-known fact; still, in the music of Bach baroque proportions are stretched to the extreme. The ‘B-minor Mass’ is a sprawling work, a compendium of Bach’s choral and vocal writing styles. It was compiled over several years, not written as a cycle, and never intended as for liturgical use, certainly not in Lutheran Germany. Therefore, it did the work no disservice to present mere sections of it. Ms. Sorrell chose the three movements of the ‘Kyrie’ and first four from the ‘Gloria’, as well as the aria ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris’ and the concluding chorus ‘Cum sancto spiritu’.
This is Big Music, and it takes skillful performers under a masterful conductor to give shape and direction to the long choral fugues in the two settings of ‘Kyrie eleison’ and that of ‘Cum sancto spiritu’, but that’s exactly what Ms. Sorrell and her group did. Particularly memorable were the duet for Ms. Simon and Ms. Bragle in ‘Christe eleison’, the majestic swelling chorus at ‘Gratias agimus tibi’, and Ms. Bragle’s breathtaking vocal control at the beginning of ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram patris’ (with the accompanying oboe d’amore part performed not, as the program listed, by Alex Klein, but by the second chair player, Lani Spahr. Mr. Klein did play the oboe d’amore solo in the Vivaldi.)
That Ms. Sorrell is a music director with a meticulous attention to detail should be apparent by this time. So it should come as no surprise that under her direction the chorus should sing the same Latin text with different, but appropriate, pronunciations in the two works — Traditional Italian in the Vivaldi (“benedichimus”, “ajigmus”), and German in the Bach (‘beneditsimus”, ‘aghimus”). As one of the choristers afterwards remarked, that one could tell the difference was a testament to their diction.
In addition to her hats as Scholar and Conductor, Ms. Sorrell occasionally also wears that of Composer/Arranger, and that she displayed in the works that opened the concert. An “Invocation” setting of the doxology text “Gloria Patri et Filio”, based on plainchant and arranged by Ms. Sorrell, was an imagining of “how the ‘Gloria Patri’ might have been sung at the Pietà [the orphanage/boarding school for girls at which Vivaldi taught] in the Late 17th century”. As such it was unconvincing, but as a piece of 21st century mystical theatricality (à la John Tavener) it was quite lovely.
More successful was Bach’s ‘Sinfonia-Konzertsatz’ (BWV 1045), for violin solo, three trumpets, and orchestra. Known from an incomplete manuscript, it was provided with an ending by Ms. Sorrell. The virtuoso solo part was played with awe-inspiring athleticism by Julie Andrijeski, while Ms. Sorrell performed the almost as amazing feat of effectively balancing three trumpets against a solo string player.Read More
Apollo’s Fire opens 18th season on heavenly notes
by Donald Rosenberg
Leave it to Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, to open a season in a blaze of glory. Make that Gloria. Come to think of it, make it both.
Music director Jeannette Sorrell had a smart idea for the first program of her ensemble’s 18th season: sacred choral works by Vivaldi and Bach that include the texts “Glory be to God on high” (“Gloria in excelsis Deo,” in the original Latin).
The orchestra’s concert Friday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights was another example of the heightened musical sensibilities that Sorrell and company pour into their Baroque duties. Vivaldi’s Gloria and highlights from Bach’s B Minor Mass were preceded by two curtain raisers devised in whole or in part by an arranger named Sorrell.
The lights dimmed as the conductor led an invocation, “Gloria Patri,” that she devised to make a connection to the Pieta, the orphanage in Venice where Vivaldi taught music to girls and women. Sorrell’s version, with nods to Monteverdi, is a plainchant of haunting beauty.
Apollo’s Musettes, five teenaged girls led by silken-voiced Madeline Healey, sang the chant with the shimmering assistance of the orchestra’s inspired chorus, Apollo’s Singers, arrayed along the sides of the church.
An unfinished violin concerto by Bach, Sinfonia-Konzertsatz in D major, BWV 1045, also had a touch of Sorrell, who completed the ending in a flourish of Bach-like radiance. The soloist, Julie Andrijeski, managed the virtuoso demands as if they were the friendliest of encounters.
When it came time for Vivaldi’s Gloria to reveal its seemingly familiar self, Sorrell made sure that the score would stand and deliver. Several tempos took off with explosive fervor, though instrumental voices and texts remained articulate. In the darkly mesmerizing “Et in terra pax,” the chorus leaned into dissonances and the orchestra held onto lines with fierce tension.
The vocal soloists were alive to the poetry and vivacity in Vivaldi’s writing. Sandra Simon used her bright soprano to glowing effect in tandem with Alex Klein’s eloquent oboe. Mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle demonstrated her Baroque versatility paired with Rene Schiffer’s jaunty cello and on her own agile journey.
Bach fared equally well, if in severely abbreviated fashion. The composer’s complete, sublime B Minor Mass usually takes up an entire program, but finances dictated that Apollo’s Fire offer only selections from Parts I and II.
What was there was magnificent. Sorrell, often leading from the harpsichord, imbued every moment with apt expressive intensity or buoyancy, and balances between voices and instruments were ideal. Simon and Bragle once again were lustrous soloists, with superior help from oboe d’amore player Lani Spahr, a trio of gleaming trumpets and Apollonian colleagues.
The performance paved the way for the day when these artists tackle a full B Minor Mass. Just think of the glory.Read More
Apollo’s Fire “Come to the River”
by Daniel Hathaway
At the end of ‘Come to the River’, Apollo’s Fire’s latest summer Countryside Concerts production, Jeannette Sorrell had the audience humming along and eventually joining in a southern folk hymn a la Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. Generating that level of audience engagement explains why the series sold out and an extra concert had to be added to the current run. We gathered at the river — or the Lake — for its final performance at the Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village on Sunday afternoon.
Working from her story line about a preacher who moves his family from Pennsylvania to Kentucky during the Great Awakening around 1800, Sorrell has festooned the plot with a rich playlist of early American music (including repertory from the British Isles which became transplanted and in some cases transformed during its own journey to the new world).
Apollo’s Fire’s very portable production features four singers (Sandra Simon, Abigail Haynes Lennox, Scott Mello and Paul Shipper) and five instrumentalists (hammered dulcimer virtuoso Tina Bergmann, violinist Rachel Jones, flutist Kathie Stewart, cellist René Schiffer, and guitarist & banjo player Gary Stewart, besides Sorrell herself at the harpsichord (appropriately sporting the inscription “Martin – Pennsylvania”), all of whom do double or triple duty as actors — or in the case of the instrumentalists, singers as well in what might be called the big production numbers.
Shipper takes the role of the Preacher, solemnly intoning his words with the over-stressed final syllables of an Ernest Angley, and Mello plays the part of Wild Bill Jones who strays from the family, shoots a man (Schiffer) and is led off in handcuffs at the end of the first act, ultimately to be redeemed and reunited with his fiancé at the revival meeting in the second half. Gary Stewart doubles as the deadpan, unresponsive country bumpkin who gives no information away in a dialogue with Mello. Even the stage manager gets into the act as the Sheriff.
Musically, the production is predictably excellent. The singers appear in finely shaped solos (Sandra Simon notably in the long Ravenscroft-become-Appalachian ballad, There Were Three Ravens), duos, trios and quartets, singing beautifully in tune and approximating in the revival meeting the style of American shape-note singing by bending pitches and sliding into chords. Well-earned ovations followed sets of pieces featuring Kathie Stewart on flute, René Schiffer on cello (a long cadenza following a duet with Scott Mello which suddenly broke into the theme from Mozart’s 40th Symphony), Tina Bergmann’s dulcimer arrangements of Appalachian tunes, and Jeannette Sorrell’s solo set of New England and Irish dances (which strangely popped up in the middle of the revival meeting).
Arrangements of the traditional repertory were shared by the performers and ranged from a cappella versions of vocal music to a bluesy version of Wild Bill Jones and an authentic-improvisatory ‘long hymn style’ version of Amazing Grace. Sometimes Apollo’s Fire chose the attractive over the authentic: in the case of one of the best-known shape-note hymns, Wondrous Love, the ensemble ignored the stark medieval like harmonies of the original for a more accessibly folksy arrangement.
One could argue that Apollo’s Fire brings rather too much learning and refinement to this repertory, which sounds very different when performed by traditional musicians in the location recordings by Alan Lomax cited as one of the inspirations for ‘Come to the River’. On the other hand, this was not (until the final hymn) a hands-on activity by amateurs but a concert situation with highly trained professionals who seemed to have great fun pretending to be ‘folk’ this afternoon.
The two-hour show (including a 25-minute intermission) completely held the attention of the capacity audience and was followed by a standing ovation (with some vociferously enthusiastic shouts from the back of the house). A beautiful afternoon in a barn-like summer theater in Huntington Reservation was the perfect setting for ‘Come to the River’.Read More
Apollo’s Fire applies its magic to American fare
by Donald Rosenberg
Every program that music director Jeannette Sorrell devises for Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is a fascinating journey. The itinerary usually takes listeners through well-known or obscure European terrain.
For her Countryside Concerts this year, Sorrell has come up with something closer to home: a musical travelogue through Appalachia of jubilant and poignant persuasion. The artistry is fresh, impeccable and enchanting.
The program’s title, “Come to the River: An Early Music Gathering,” only hints at the scope of the event, which a sold-out audience savored Friday at the Baroque Music Barn in Hunting Valley.
More musical theater than mere concert, Sorrell’s creation is plotted, with a quartet of characters who take an extended, bumpy wagon ride to a Revival meeting in Kentucky. En route, they explore everything from love and death to murder and salvation.
The narrative acts as connective tissue for a cavalcade of musical Americana, including fiddle tunes, ballads, hymns and spirituals. In the tradition of her Baroque concerts, Sorrell dusts off pieces we may never have heard and compels us to ask where they’ve been all our lives.
As always, the result is a keen Sorrell blend of scholarship and performance smarts. The musicians dance in the aisles and raise their voices in communal celebration. The theatrical aspects of “Come to the River” are so charmingly realized that you can’t help but wonder if a sequel is in store.
Paul Shipper, a guitarist and basso, is a larger-than-life personality as the Rev. James McGready, the leader of the Revival movement in the early 19th century. (He even zealously hawks Apollo’s Fire CDs and other paraphernalia during intermission.)
Cellist Rene Schiffer gets his momentary comeuppance during “Wild Bill Jones,” a ballad that tenor Scott Mello sings with fierce (even violent) passion. In secular and sacred songs, sopranos Abigail Haynes Lennox and Sandra Simon wrap character and text into a series of touching and amusing packages.
The program’s bounty of vocal and instrumental selections also is kept aloft by harpsichordist Sorrell, Rachel Jones (a dandy country fiddler), flutist Kathie Stewart (stellar in Irish pieces) and guitarist and banjo player Gary Stewart (whose oh-so-dry wit hits the mark in a scene with Mello).
And to my ears, there can never be enough of Tina Bergmann, the hammered dulcimer player who makes ecstatic gold of everything she touches.Read More
Apollo’s Fire heats up Calgary concert hall
by Kenneth Delong
Apollo’s Fire is a baroque orchestra whose program Sunday night, closing the current Calgary Pro Musica season, was subtitled: Vivaldi and Rameau do Battle with Nature. Calgarians were doing their own battle with nature as our winter weather continues into spring, but it didn’t deter the healthy-sized audience that showed up to enjoy the diverting and diverse program presented by the American guests.
Apollo’s Fire consists of about 20 performers, mixing strings, harpsichord, and wind instruments. It is about the size of a court orchestra during the eighteenth century, and its purpose is to present concerts that recreate the musical ambience of the period. To this effect, the conductor of the group, Jeannette Sorrell, not only directs but plays the harpsichord; the violinists take their turns at solo spots, retiring to section players when it is someone else’s turn.
A happy addition to the program was the presence of dancers Carlos Fittante and Catherine Turocy, dancers trained in the court dances of the era. Complete with attractive costumes, they added considerably to the enjoyment of the evening, offering a stylish account of Spanish-style courtship in dance form to the music of La Folia, one of the period’s favourite pieces for variations. They also danced to the music of Les Indes Galantes by Jean Philip Rameau, a fanciful work that portrays Europe’s fascination with exotic cultures as seen and understood at that time.
The players of Apollo’s Fire approach the modern Italian style of period performance to some extent, favouring relatively free tempi and a highly expressive delivery of the notes.
This approach is particularly suited to the music in the concert, all of which is devoted to that element in baroque instrumental music that draws its inspiration from summer storms, storms at sea, earthquakes, and fire. The music performed was composed by Jean-Fery Rebel, Vivaldi, and Rameau, and was all played with energy and genuine commitment to musical values of these works.
Giving a local touch to the program, the concert opened with the well-known hymn For the Beauty of the Earth, neatly and expressively sung by the Cantare Children’s Choir, who also returned at the end to help close the evening.Read More
Apollo’s Fire ‘Virtusoso Fire’ in Rocky River
by Daniel Hathaway
Apollo’s Fire’s upcoming family concerts are titled ‘Stormy Weather: What happens when a baroque orchestra gets caught in a thunderstorm? The musicians play faster!’
We’re not sure if Sunday afternoon’s Donner und Blitzen affected the tempos of Jeannette Sorrell and her dozen string players, who were performing their fourth straight edition of ‘Virtuoso Fire’, but the moody swings in weather over the last few days must have had both the orchestra and oboe soloist Alex Klein fussing over their senstitive reeds and instruments.
Sorrell constructed a fascinating program built around the notion of ambitious composers locked in competition and intrigue in early 18th century Venice, accompanied by lively program notes which revealed colorful flaws in some of their personalities. Antonio Vivaldi was the leading figure, represented by a movement from his Concerto in F for three violins, the Concerto in C for violin and two cellos, the d minor oboe concerto and an Apollo’s Fire favorite, the Concerto in b for four violins. Benedetto Marcello took the opening spot with his Concerto à 5 in F, Tomaso Albinoni contributed his d minor oboe concerto, and Jeannette Sorrell created an attractive and earthy pastiche called “Concerto Grosso alla Rustica” out of movements by Francesco Veracini and Vivaldi.
Here was a program that allowed six soloists to step outside the ensemble and show off some fancy fiddling in a number of combinations. Violinists Julie Andrijeski, Johanna Novom, Adriane Post & concertmaster Cynthia Roberts and cellists René Schiffer & Caroline Bean did the honors, playing with style, virtuosity and taste. The orchestra stood throughout, allowing the performers to stay in close contact with Sorrell, who conducted from the harpsichord, and to interact in charming ways that brought smiles to faces in the audience.
Guest artist Alex Klein proved to be as fluent on the baroque oboe as he is on its modern version, producing a mellow, blending tone and negotiating Vivaldi’s fireworks with aplomb, providing clever and tasteful ornamentation and embellishments where an 18th century audience would have expected them. If the Vivaldi concerto was a showpiece of virtuosity, the Albinoni was a treasurehouse of melody. Here, Klein’s gorgeous tone helped produce one of the most loveable performances of the afternoon, especially in the Adagio, when the strings retired into the background, the bass played pizzicato and harpsichord switched to the lute stop, casting the oboe line into the foreground. A humorous moment preceded the Albinoni, when Klein held up his music (the score of the Vivaldi) and said, “I think we’ve already played this one”, leading both soloist and conductor to dash offstage in search of the errant music.
Sunday’s performance took place in the nearly full sanctuary of Rocky River Presbyterian Church, a quasi-round space with vast headroom which produced some curious acoustical effects. The performers seemed a bit muffled and far away during the first half of the concert (a look at the performing platform told the story: carpet!) One of the complications of moving concerts around among different halls is getting used to the idiosyncrasies of different rooms, especially when a short rehearsal or sound check gets done without people in the seats. Apollo’s Fire quickly adapted to the situation on Sunday, and balances and projection in the second half of the program improved markedly.
The orchestra has a loyal following in the suburbs. The Rocky River audience received the performance warmly, and bravos were shouted out after many of the concertos. Under the circumstances, perhaps ‘bravas’ were in order — with two men and eleven women in the ensemble, Apollo’s Fire almost recreated Vivaldi’s famous female orchestra at the Pietà.Read More
Apollo’s Fire presents virtuosos galore
by Donald Rosenberg
Competition among composers in 18th-century Venice appears to have been heated. Put it this way (in alphabetical order): Tomaso Albinoni vs. Alessandro Marcello vs. Benedetto Marcello vs. Antonio Vivaldi vs. Francesco Veracini.
Thank goodness for the enmity. It fueled creative fires that inspired a bounty of delicious music.
Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, took up the subject to winning effect over the weekend with its program, “Virtuoso Fire: Italian Concertos by Vivaldi & Rivals.” The composers above – except for Alessandro, brother of Benedetto – proved themselves as music director Jeannette Sorrell led what amounted more to a celebration than a contest.
Vivaldi may be the most renowned of the group, but who could say that the dreamy slow movement of Albinoni’s Concerto in D minor for Oboe and Strings, Op. 9, No. 2, is any less intoxicating than anything the more famous composer wrote? As performed to the lyrical hilt by guest oboist Alex Klein, the strings and harpsichordist Sorrell, Albinoni’s lines floated from the heavens, with the soloist spinning phrases like an inspired opera singer.
Hearing Klein play Baroque oboe with such penetrating expressivity Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights was an exhilarating experience. Early in the decade, the Oberlin College faculty member was serving as principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony when he was stricken with dystonia. The neurological ailment ended his orchestra career but sent Klein on new artistic journeys.
He has triumphed as educator and occasional soloist. With Apollo’s Fire, Klein gave the Albinoni a performance of exceptional elegance, agility and tenderness. He achieved similar magnificence in Vivaldi’s Concerto in D minor for Oboe and Strings, RV 454, applying ornaments with subtle grace and savoring the music’s sweetness and zest.
The program included a bevy of virtuoso opportunities for Apollo’s Fire members. Marcello’s Concerto a 5 in F major, Op. 1, No. 4, proved a succinct beauty for ensemble in the role of vivacious and refined soloist.
The rest of the night was largely Vivaldi, with a bit of Veracini thrown in for a bunch of very good measures in a Concerto Grosso alla Rustica that Sorrell devised fusing movements by the two V’s. This stew featured three bold violinists – Johanna Novom, Adriane Post and (at the shift from Veracini to Vivaldi) Cynthia Roberts – and harpsichordist Sorrell.
In Vivaldi’s Concerto in C major for Violin and Two Cellos, Novom, Roberts and violinist Julie Andrijeski alternated movements with individual flair, while cellists Rene Schiffer and Caroline Bean added sonorous life down below. The three violinists also thrust themselves into the earthy vibrancy of a movement from Vivaldi’s Concerto in F major for Three Violins.
At night’s end came one of Vivaldi’s biggest hits, the Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10, which wove its energizing spell with Post joining the lively fray and Schiffer doing his blazing cello thing.Read More
Apollo’s Fire mounts thoroughly enjoyable production of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas at St. Josaphat Hall
by Daniel Hathaway
“Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ is an opera an opera hater can love”, as Allan Kozinn put it in a New York Times review last December. “It’s in English, and it runs less than an hour. Its libretto, drawn from Virgil, is fantastical but not idiotic, and Purcell’s music brings it to life magnificently”. It’s also remarkably adaptable to wildly different approaches in staging — Kozinn happened to be commenting on a production by the Sybarite Chamber Players which relocated the action to Wall Street and turned the plot’s love interest into a planned corporate merger that fell apart when Aeneas was suddenly called back to Italy, all without doing any damage to the music.
In its stagings of Purcell’s beloved music drama at St. Josaphat Arts Hall last week, Apollo’s Fire set out to return the work to the spirit of its original performance at Josiah Priest’s girls’ school in Chelsea in 1689 — quite a different approach from the company’s production a decade ago at the Art Museum in cooperation with Opera Atelier of Toronto. Artistic director Jeannette Sorrell replaced Nahum Tate’s once-relevant politico-allegorical prologue with her own, a well-crafted and witty introduction acted out by five of ‘Apollo’s Musettes’. These teen-aged girls in plaid skirts representing the denizens of Priest’s female academy set the stage for a production which surely resembled one that might have been mounted in 1689 in an outdoor courtyard at the school.
On this occasion, we were in the barrel-vaulted nave of the former St. Josaphat Church with a temporary stage erected along the north side of the space, orchestra and chorus on stage right, and in the company of dozens of angels peering down from quasi-baroque Corinthian columns. Sets and furniture were minimal (chairs and hangings) and lighting was only what was needed. The orchestra and chorus drifted in informally through the audience, singers could be heard warming up offstage and performers mingled with the audience at intermission, all of which contributed to the generally laid-back character of the production.
Since the original manuscript is lost and the text of Purcell’s score is only known through secondary sources, lots of decisions need to be made. What instruments to use? What to do about the apparently missing music from the end of the second act? How to put movement to the many dance pieces that festoon the score? At what point do Dido & Aeneas consummate their passion? How (and why) does Dido die?
For the orchestra, Jeannette Sorrell chose single strings and two recorders, plus a continuo section of two harpsichords and two theorbos (arch lutes, one doubling guitar). She chose to insert Michael Tilmouth’s newly composed chorus and dance to bring the second act to a tonally satisfying conclusion, and choreographer Carlos Fittante and colleague Robin Gilbert Campos changed costume several times to animate the stage during the dance sequences. Appropriate to the circumstances, Dido & Aeneas were the most chaste of lovers onstage, and after fate breaks off their relationship, Dido is borne off into the Empyrium by the Musettes, now clad in white and scattering rose petals, without apparently needing to die at all. The only curious decision was a 20-minute intermission which cut Dido & Aeneas in two and interrupted the dramatic flow of an already short work.
The cast of singers included Meredith Hall, a commanding and statuesque Dido, Sandra Simon, a strong partner in the role of Belinda (doubling as a witch) and Abigale Haynes Lennox in the curious role of ‘Second Woman’ (and second Witch), both of whom managed Purcell’s tricky melismas with precision and clarity. Baritone Sumner Thompson was the regal and somewhat distant Aeneas who sonorously proclaimed his recitative-only part. Tenor Scott Mello spent most of the afternoon in the chorus except for his cameo appearance in an extremely boozy and Cockney-inflected version of the Sailor’s lone aria. Filling one of the most important roles were the excellent Apollo’s Singers who sang from memory, perfectly enunciated their Greek-chorus commentaries, cackled with the witches, and surprised everyone by leaving their choir pews to do an onstage Ring-Around-The-Witch sequence late in the course of the action.
The production, staged by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, who also designed the costumes, made clever use of the space. A thunder sheet startled the audience to look up to the left when the Sorceress and her sidekicks suddenly appeared in the gallery (also the vantage point from which the Sorceress conjured up the picnic-ruining storm —more thunder sheets — and from which fate in the form of Mercury ordered Aeneas to set sail). As well as providing for a dramatic change of location, singing from the gallery placed Meg Bragle (the worderfully threatening Sorceress), Sandra Simon & Abigail Haynes Lenox right under the barrel vault of the nave, thus projecting their screeching and hissing voices in a particularly sinister way. From here they also provided the echoes usually given to the chorus in ‘Our deep vaulted cell’.
The excellent orchestra began the afternoon with ‘Ayres for the Theatre’, a twenty-minute prelude of selections from Purcell’s other music dramas (King Arthur, Dioclesian and The Fairie Queen), and provided spirited support to singers and chorus in the main event. Sorrell conducted sometimes from the keyboard, sometimes standing while Peter Bennett took over playing from the second harpsichord, sometimes surrendering control and trusting the ever-vigilant continuo department, led by cellist René Schiffer, to take its own cues from the stage.
As always, the Dido’s affecting final recitative and aria (‘When I am laid in earth’) and perfectly conceived final chorus (‘With drooping wings’) captivated everyone. As the piece drew to a conclusion, I glanced up once again at the angels on the columns and imagined them to be weeping along with the cupids. This was a memorable way to spend a couple of hours on a late January afternoon!Read More
Apollo’s Fire illuminates Purcell opera
by Donald Rosenberg
Need help preparing a 350th-birthday celebration? Look no further than Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.
Music director Jeannette Sorrell and company are in the midst of throwing a series of enchanting parties for Henry Purcell, the English composer who was born in 1659. Their program of theater music and the opera “Dido and Aeneas” runs through Tuesday at Cleveland’s Josephat Arts Hall.
“Dido” is the first fully-staged opera presented solely by Apollo’s Fire, which performed an opulent production in 1998 in collaboration with Toronto’s Opera Atelier. The 2009 version is simple in the best sense of the word: sets are minimal, costumes elegant, music-making primary.
Josaphat Arts Hall, a former Polish Roman Catholic Church on E. 33rd St., proves an almost ideal fit for Purcell’s masterpiece. A stage platform sits snugly between two columns. Sorrell, conducting a wonderfully lucid and vibrant reading of the score from the harpsichord, is situated nearby with seven instrumental colleagues and Apollo’s Singers, the ensemble’s chorus.
“Dido” has come down through the centuries minus a complete prologue. Sorrell solved the dilemma by concocting her own witty version for five charming young women – known as Apollo’s Musettes – evoking the girls who introduced the opera at a boarding school in 1689.
What follows is a swift, tender and exquisitely conceived account of “Dido.” Stage director Marie-Nathalie Lacoursiere has shaped the piece with a graceful hand, allowing the characters to respond naturally to the music. The dances are the work of Carlos Fittante, who performs his animated simulations of Baroque movement winningly with Robin Gilbert Campos.
The acoustics at Josaphat are kinder to musical sounds than to English words, which aren’t always intelligible. But the production makes fine use of space, placing the nefarious Sorceress (Meg Bragle) and her cackling witches (Sandra Simon, Abigail Haynes Lennox) in a choir loft.
Several singers from the 1998 production have returned to recreate their roles, including the sonorous Bragle, bright-voiced Simon and Meredith Hall, whose portrayal of the anguished Queen Dido is even more affecting in the 21st century.
Hall is the picture of dignity as the love-stricken queen. The soprano gives nuanced life to every phrase, floating lines with limpid beauty and bringing expressive poignancy to Dido’s lament, “When I am laid in earth.”
Aeneas isn’t much of a character, but Sumner Thompson sings the role with stalwart assurance. His crisp enunciation ensures that every word reaches our ears.
Simon and Lennox do dandy double duty. They are poised as Belinda and the Second Woman, respectively, and hilarious as old-hag witches with Cockney accents.
Even the members of Apollo’s Singers – who are so articulate and unified doing their usual chorus thing – let down their hair as they rush onstage to cavort as the wildest witches in Northeast Ohio.Read More