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Virtuoso music and charisma to boot

  • Jul 14, 2006
From The Register-Guard By Marilyn Farwell A Bach Festival without vocal concerts is like Oregon without rain. Unfortunately, this year's festival scheduled only one such event. Fortunately, that one event featured Maria Jette, a festival regular and a Eugene favorite. Joined by the Festival Baroque Ensemble and two superb instrumental soloists, Guy Few and Allan Vogel, Jette presented two Johann Sebastian Bach cantatas and the newly discovered "Shoebox aria" by Bach. The virtuosity of all the soloists made for a satisfying, and at times exciting evening of baroque music. The audience was abuzz as the concert began, not because it anticipated the sonata for trumpet and strings by the obscure 18th century composer Pietro Baldassari, but because of Few's dramatic entrance. Those familiar with the trumpeter will know that he is anything but a staid classical musician. He walked out on stage in black leather pants, a white shirt open to midchest and a floor-length, flowing black coat that evoked the popular movie ``The Matrix.'' Luckily, his trumpet playing matches his brash presence. Swift passages were played with ease and long legato lines sang. The two familiar Bach cantatas, the secular "Wedding Cantata" and the religious work "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen," were at the center of this concert. Both were written at about the same time and, like the operas of the era, each contains a series of arias and recitatives that display the virtuosity of the singer. Each cantata also features an instrumental solo, in the first case for the oboe, and in the second for the trumpet. The various combinations of voice and instrumental solo provided the most beguiling moments of the evening. Although Jette does not have a remarkably unique voice, she uses her clarion soprano with intelligence and expressiveness. Her stage presence is vibrant, especially when giving her short, often humorous, introductions. She maintains that close relationship with her audience as she sings, making even a foreign language seem alive and immediate. Simply put, Jette knows how to put over a song. The "Wedding Cantata" is a joyful, relatively simple cantata that compares the awakening of love to the renewal of nature in spring. In the first aria, Jette and extraordinary oboist Vogel displayed an uncanny ability to imitate one another's sounds and exceptional breath control. Jette became, at this point, one of the instruments in the ensemble. It was a beautiful moment. Jette revealed a command of both florid and legato singing in this lovely work. The religious cantata is a complex work that demands more operatic virtuosity. At times, this piece taxed Jette to the limit. In the second aria, "Hochster, Mache Deine Gute," her voice sounded frayed and her breath control faltered, but she soon recovered and sang a strong chorale and ended firmly, including a high C, in the florid "Alleluja" finale. Few was again a remarkable instrumental soloist whose impeccable control matched Jette's singing. Jette introduced the newly discovered Bach song as an "oddball piece" by a young 28-year-old Bach. Although a scholar's dream, the work has little of Bach's contrapuntal originality, except perhaps in the instrumental sections. The sophisticated musicianship of the Baroque Ensemble, including some solo turns, added breadth to a concert that was memorable for its strong personalities and exceptional solo work.