CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE APOLLO'S FIRE CONCERT OF 2 FEBRUARY 2007
George Frideric Handel: Dixit Dominus, HWV 232; Water Music (selections); Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351. (Jeannette Sorrell, cond.)
All across Europe, fireworks were the medium of choice for celebrating the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. If, at the time, you wondered whether the Treaty would bring lasting European peace, you could have found your answer in the festivities in Paris. According to one newspaper account, both the French and the Italians were eager to be the first to light the celebratory fireworks. They argued, ignited their combustibles simultaneously, and ended up blowing up the whole display.
Meanwhile, the British spent almost six months engineering and building a structure in London's Green Park from which to launch their own showcase of the latest in pyrotechnic technology. National passions again intervened. At least one sword was drawn. The Londoners' custom-built edifice caught fire. And an illustration of the day labeled the event "The Grand Whim for Posterity to Laugh At."
You can see that illustration reproduced in the program booklet for this weekend's Apollo's Fire concerts, which feature the one object of merit salvaged from the "Grand Whim"—Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. Music Director Jeannette Sorrell lets the music strut and swagger. And why not? There's really no reason to play this music if you're not in the mood for something bombastic. The ensemble's playing was attentive and crisp. The timpani sounded marvelously intimidating in the reverberant acoustic of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Even the usually recalcitrant period brass instruments remained on their best behavior—though the same was, alas, not the case in the selections from Handel's Water Music that immediately followed intermission.
Yet, for all the popular appeal of the Fireworks and Water Music, it was Handel's youthful Dixit Dominus which proved the highlight of Friday evening's concert. This setting for soloists, chorus, and orchestra of Psalm 109 (in the Vulgate numbering that Handel himself used) elicited an adroit performance by Apollo's Singers, who had the dual burden of coping with challenging choral writing and with spots of interpretive overindulgence on Sorrell's part—particularly in the work's fourth section, "Juravit Dominus." Soprano soloist Kiera Duffy displayed an engagingly clear and precise voice, though her singing in the aria "Tecum principium" revealed just a tiny hint of stridency.
The only slight disappointment was alto Margaret Bragle, who seemed oddly uninvolved in her rendition of the aria "Virgam virtutis." And during her short solo part in the sixth movement—"Dominus a dextris tuis"—Bragle's singing was lost in the mix. Mind you, Friday's performance was, we are told, being recorded for CD release, and that imbalance might be corrected in the final product. Technology can be a wonderful thing-as long as it doesn't wind up setting the stage alight.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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