Purcell/Britten: outstanding performances

  • Jun 27, 2011
From the Oregon Music News Wednesday June 29 By James Bash [caption id="attachment_5564" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Soloists Leah Wool, Robin Johannsen, Sumner Thompson"][/caption]

Ah! Leah Wool’s sumptuous voice made a queen’s lament one of the many highlights of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” on Monday evening (June 27th) at First United Methodist Church in Portland.  Wool was the star in a performance that featured the Portland Baroque Orchestra under violinist Monica Huggett, soloists, and a superb vocal ensemble from the Oregon Bach Festival, which sponsored the concert. Their collaborative effort resulted in an exquisite interpretation of Purcell’s opera, but the near-capacity audience also heard an outstanding performance by the Portland Baroque Orchestra of Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony” as well as an elegant and emotive rendition by a select vocal ensemble of the “Choral Dances” from Britten’s opera “Gloriana.” Wool, a mezzo-soprano from New York, replaced soloist Golda Schultz with just a few days’ notice after Schultz was forced to cancel because of a visa problem. Wool wonderfully evoked Dido’s grief upon being abandoned by Aeneas, and she deftly put a little edge into her voice when she sang the role of the Sorceress who delighted in tricking Dido. Equally evocative and flexible was the singing of Robin Johannsen in the role of Belinda (Dido’s lady in waiting) and as the First Witch. Amanda Jane Kelley superbly created three characters: the Second Lady, the Second Witch, and the Spirit. Sumner Thompson displayed his baritone voice to the fullest as Aeneas. Twelve members of Oregon Bach Festival’s Berwick Chorus echoed and advanced the tragic story with incisive and emotional singing. The Portland Baroque Orchestra supported it all with terrific ensemble playing, including several exposed passages for various musicians of which the most memorable was the lingering phrases played by theorboist David W. Rogers. To open the concert, the Portland Baroque Orchestra delivered a refreshing performance of Britten’s “Simple Symphony.” The musicians, a baker’s dozen, expertly created moods that ranged from vigorous and agitated to gentle and sensuous. Precision, in the artistic sense, was a hallmark of their performance, and it made this virtuosic piece sound easy peasy rather than overworked and sweaty. A select group of twelve singers from the 57-member Berwick Chorus of the Oregon Bach Festival gave a phenomenal performance of the “Choral Dances” from Britten’s “Gloriana.”  Their sound was pure and totally unblemished with clear diction and dynamics that embraced the text at every turn. They sang six dances and each one was a gem. One of the remarkable things about this group was the impeccable singing of Reginald Mobley, who blended his counter tenor voice perfectly with the alto section. Read All