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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Review: Bourbon Baroque Music for Holy Week

Oh for a seat in heaven from which to have heard last night's performance by Bourbon Baroque. If not heaven, perhaps the dome of St. Agnes where much of the sound was directed. One of the many challenges faced by artistic directors of small, nomadic organizations like Bourbon Baroque is the inability to sufficiently master the acoustics of their performance hall in the time permitted. With guest soloists coming in and out of town just in time for performances it is difficult to achieve the delicate balance they and their audiences would appreciate.

That being said I am happy Susan and I were able to be part of last evening's event. As war planes roared above us on their way to simulated attacks on downtown Louisville, artistic directors John Austin Clark and Nicolas Fortin and their fortified chamber ensemble provided a beautiful beginning to Holy Week. There was room to dance, but we were well rewarded.

The concert began with three works for Traverso, Violin and continuo by Italian composer Domenico Corri. Flutist Leela Breithaupt joined Fortin and the ensemble [Janelle Davis, violin; Meghan Casper, viola; Lara Turner, cello; and Clark, harpsichord] in a gorgeous interpretation of music (according to the program notes) never before heard by this or any other North American audience.

Appreciation for music of the Baroque performed on authentic instruments requires a "re-tuning" of the ear for modern listeners. This shift in paradigm allows for the beautiful and exotic sonorities created last evening by Fortin and Breithaupt as Corri brought them together and swept them apart, twirling and bowing in a musical reflection of courtly dances.

The second portion of last evening's concert, Bach's Cantata, BWV 82 "Ich Habe Genug," was a tribute to the outstanding work of Melvin and Margaret Dickinson who, after 47 years, will close the books on the Louisville Bach Society with a final concert on May 1. The Dickinson's were an early inspiration for Clark who hopes to carry on the spirit of the ensemble.

For the cantata the ensemble was supplemented with a Violine (ancestor of the modern Bass Viol), played by Phil Spray. Bach took the text for his cantata, originally composed for the 1727 Feast of the purification of St. Mary, from the Gospel of Luke. Originally scored for a solo Bass vocal with orchestral accompaniment, "Ich habe genug" draws from the words of Simeon who proclaimed the fulfillment of his life, "I have enough," after the Holy Spirit prompts him toward an encounter with an eight-day-old infant Jesus. Bach arranged the popular work for soprano, tenor, alto and mezzo-soprano during his lifetime. Bach, being Bach, also introduced a second voice through his use of the oboe. The ethereal qualities of oboist Sung Lee's interpretation were suggestive of the Holy Spirit's role in the story, gently guiding the aged Simeon along toward a "serendipitous" meeting with the holy family. Mezzo-soprano Kristen Leich sang beautifully, filling the sanctuary when she was in her mid and upper ranges. Her low range was beautiful, round and mellow, if a little difficult to hear at times due to her unfamiliarity with the requirements of the space.

The evening concluded with Ms. Leich and the ensemble, sans oboe and traverso, performing two short pieces from Handel's Theodora, HWV 68. This was Handel's penultimate oratorio and his least heard. Thomas Morell's libretto is often in need of help from the composer, but not in last evening's selections. The text of the oratorio deals with the martyrdom of Theodora and the converted Roman soldier Didymus;  Leich's interpretation of the Recit: Ah! Whither should we fly and the Aria, As with rosy steps the morn were both beautiful and inspiring.

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