Matthew Halls - Live Review - Oregon Festival - RegistedGuard.com (2)
10 July 2011RegistedGuard.com
History and legend tell us that women who
want to be famous ought to consider martyrdom. St. Cecilia was the last
of three women to be honored under the Oregon Bach Festival's theme this
year, "In Praise of Women."
Like the others - Dido and Joan of Arc -
she gained her fame by dying: Dido for love, Joan for her country, and
Cecilia in the second century for her Christian beliefs.
For vague reasons, she became the patron saint of music in the Renaissance.
The festival presented a concert of English
poetry and music in Cecilia's honor while at the same time introducing
us to the English conductor and baroque specialist, Matthew Halls. Halls
demonstrated an incisive yet expressive technique that made for an
The program began with Henry Purcell's
"Welcome to all the pleasures" from 1683. This delicate piece asks for a
small ensemble mainly of strings, but its delicacy was lost in the
Silva Concert Hall.
The instrumental group, especially the
three upper strings, was dazzling, and Halls nicely elicited the details
of rhythm and vibrato less texture from them.
Countertenor Reginald Mobley displayed a
sweet voice that needed a smaller venue, and Dann Coakwell sang "Beauty,
thou scene of love" with intelligence.
The concert's surprising gem was Benjamin
Britten's "Hymn to St. Cecilia," written in the early 1940s employing
W.H. Auden's poetry.
The inclusion of Britten's music, often in
tandem with Purcell's, has been one of the joys of this year's festival.
Auden's three-part poem has variety and depth, sometimes too much of
the latter for song.
Britten responded with intriguing harmonies and contrasting musical styles. The small a cappella chorus was nearly perfect.
The sopranos sang together with
unbelievable purity, like, dare I say it, a British boys' choir. When
they sang solos, these same women sang with beautiful, fearless
vibratos. Kathy Romey, who prepares these choruses, deserves much credit
for the discipline and beauty of this choral number.
The concert ended with George Friderich
Handel's "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day," after a famous poem by John
Dryden. Handel's work resounds with musical word painting, just as
Dryden's poem displays playful onomatopoeia such as the "double, double,
double beat" of the drum.
This extended work showcased the magical
talents of festival favorites Guy Few on the trumpet and Lorna McGhee on
the flute, as well as two vocal soloists, soprano Robin Johannsen and
tenor Thomas Cooley.
Johannsen sang with ease and beauty,
ornamenting much of her music and singing the rapid passages with
aplomb. Cooley is not a baroque tenor, and he blustered his way through
the runs and trills.
Halls again displayed his precision, but
his unwillingness to conduct the soloists led, in one case, to a cello
solo that was more romantic than baroque. The Oregon Bach Festival
orchestra and the festival's Berwick Chorus were magnificent.
Thanks in great part to Halls' adroit
conducting, Cecilia reigned luminously on Thursday evening. But luckily,
we have had other female models to praise during this festival, the
very alive Marin Alsop and Monica Huggett.
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