Apollo’s Fire ‘Three Duels and a Wedding’

14/02/2018

Telemann and Bach: Soloists, Apollo’s Fire / Jeannette Sorrell (conductor). First United Methodist Church, Akron, Ohio. 8.2.2018. (MSJ)

Telemann – Concerto in E minor for Flute and Violin, TWV 52:e3 [Stewart, Brault]

Bach – ‘Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten’ BWV 202 [Forsythe]; Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in B-flat, BWV 1051 [Schmitz, Linfante]; Concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060 [Nagy, Novom]

One of the best things (among many) about Apollo’s Fire is that music director and founder Jeannette Sorrell makes it a regular part of the group’s mission to breathe new life into the repertory. Sometimes this comes through the interpretation of old classics, sometimes in new arrangements of favorites, and sometimes through rediscovery of largely forgotten music. The first and the last come into play with this program titled ‘Three Duels and a Wedding’.

German baroque master Georg Philipp Telemann did himself a disservice: He wrote so much music that few listeners can hope to get their arms around enough of it, to explore it for prize moments. Fortunately, Apollo’s Fire found a gem in the Concerto in E minor for Flute and Violin. The first two movements offer ample evidence of Telemann’s knack for writing charming music that offers soloists plenty of opportunities to shine, as Kathie Stewart and Olivier Brault did. The contrast between Brault’s swagger and Stewart’s floating tone was delightful. But the finale was even better, a movement segmented into three parts: a breathtakingly fast presto interrupted by a calming adagio and succeeded by a catchy allegro. The soloists’ interplay with each other and the rest of the ensemble was such high-spirited fun that I hope they will continue to mine the composer’s output for other diamonds.

If Bach’s sense of play is a little more cerebral, it also offers great depths to explore. His Wedding Cantata is a lovely, laid-back work for soprano and orchestra, its text full of flowering spring. Soprano Amanda Forsythe brought gleaming warmth that matched the words perfectly. She negotiated Bach’s intricacies with seeming ease, even as the vocal line bubbled over with laughter. In one section, oboist Debra Nagy joined Forsythe in a duet, the baroque oboe’s pastel tone color enveloping the soprano’s more penetrating sound. During the final gavotte-style aria, a couple of the violinists put down their instruments for a bit and actually danced the gavotte, a fitting closing to one of Bach’s most delightful secular cantatas.

Back in dueling mode, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.6 brought a rare spotlight on a pair of solo violas. Karina Schmitz and Kristen Linfante made them speak with eloquence, supported by Sorrell’s unerring sense of how to shape big paragraphs with the occasional rhetorical pause. If one of the additional duels in this darkly-handsome piece is how to voice everything—while keeping the close harmonies of violas, viol da gambas, cello and bass in tune—these folks brought it off beautifully. Recognition should also go to cellist René Schiffer for his solos. As a program bonus, Schiffer offered an eloquent solo turn with the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No.2.

Last but far from least was another Bach wonder, the Concerto for Oboe and Violin, a reconstruction of the original version that he later transformed into the Double Clavier Concerto, BWV 1060. The reconstruction has arguably (and maybe rightly) become even more popular, not least since it provides a rare opportunity to hear oboe and violin paired and does it so well. And in the hands of masters like Debra Nagy and Johanna Novom, the period instrument tone colors were enchanting.

Watching Apollo’s Fire musicians interweave and share the spotlight is a master class in leadership. Each player is so secure that they can shine while eagerly supporting their fellow players. But that’s a matter of course for these artists.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

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