CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE APOLLO'S FIRE CONCERT OF 13 OCTOBER 2006
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata No. 174 ("Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte ")—Sinfonia; Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D minor, BWV 1043; Cantata No. 201 ("Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde" [Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan]). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Idomeneo, K. 367—Ballet Music; Apollo et Hyacinthus, K. 38. (Jennifer Roig-Francoli, Carrie Krause, v.; Sandra Simon, sop.; Scott Mello, ten.; Sumner Thompson, bar.; Jeannette Sorrell, cond.)
Old-fashioned fortune-telling never seems to go out of style. Visit the ruins of Hierapolis in southwestern Turkey, turn to the back of the guidebook published by the Italian Archaeological Mission, and you'll find an Appendix titled "How to Consult the Oracle of Apollo." To get the solutions to all your pressing questions, you first head to the grotto of the Plutonium—a supposed entrance to the Underworld situated alongside the Temple of Apollo. Then write the letters of the Greek alphabet on slips of paper, draw one from the pack, and turn to the key in the book for the answer starting with that letter. Selecting a "nu," for example, gives you an answer that translates as: "From the tenebrous night there appears a luminous ray."
And yes, that seems rather like a Magic Eight Ball trying to evade answering your question with something a little more creative than "Outlook hazy, try again." Or it might, just be an apt metaphor for marking the fifteenth anniversary of Apollo's Fire, which celebrates both itself and its Olympian patron this weekend in a program dubbed Bach and Mozart Salute Apollo.
The concert's built around abbreviated versions of two rarely heard works that feature the character of Phoebus Apollo: Bach's Cantata BWV 201—"The Contest between Phoebus and Pan"-and Mozart's youthful "Apollo and Hyacinthus." Jeannette Sorrell's joky English-language abridgement of the Bach Cantata might not be to everyone's taste, but her excellent vocal soloists more than compensate. Tenor Scott Mello has an winningly lucid voice, though he seems more comfortable in the comic role of Bach's Pan than he does as Mozart's grieving and enraged Oebalus. Baritone Sumner Thompson—who gets the starring role of Apollo in both the Bach and the Mozart—is a naturally commanding singer whose use of vibrato could be more judicious. Soprano Sandra Simon was the standout among Friday's soloists, applying her impressive vocal technique with economy and intelligence and displaying a remarkable ability to define dramatic characters with just a handful of notes.
The remainder of the program is a sort of Bach and Mozart miscellany. And if the opening piece—the Sinfonia from Bach's Cantata 174—raised concerns of interpretive exaggeration, the rest of the evening displayed Sorrell at her most discriminating. Jennifer Roig-Francoli and Carrie Krause were effective soloists in Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. And Friday's version of the ballet music from Mozart's Idomeneo was quite simply one of the best live performances I've heard from this ensemble—alert, crisp, intelligent, zestful. Why, even the most recalcitrant of those period instruments behaved themselves.
Perhaps, from the god's magic alphabet, Apollo's Fire had drawn an iota: "Apollo who holds the glorious bow will give you strength in your feats."
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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