Tom Strini

Spectacular Baroque Singing

Milwaukee Symphony guest soprano Yulia Van Doren, countertenor Daniel Taylor, conductor Nicholas McGegan deliver brilliant Handel, Pergolesi.

By - Mar 30th, 2013 02:20 am
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Countertenor Daniel Taylor

Countertenor Daniel Taylor

Daniel Taylor’s countertenor and Yulia Van Doren’s soprano, close in pitch but distinct in color, twined and blended in complex duets from operas by Handel and in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater Friday evening. Behind them, Nicholas McGegan led the strings and continuo of the Milwaukee Symphony so as to transform the orchestra into a Greek chorus. Strands of melody rose to cajole the singers, comment or to echo not only their lines, but also their nuanced sentiments.

How finely and sensitively Taylor and Van Doren shaded their melodies, and how alertly they tuned to each other and to the feeling of the moment. In the duets from Rinaldo and Rodelinda, especially, Handel sets the voices a major or minor second apart at critical emotional moments. The dissonance represents their heartache, be it the ache of excitement over new love in the first case or the ache of impending separation in the second. The singers eased into these clashes so as to make them poignant rather than harsh. Fine control of purposefully applied vibrato had a lot to do with this, as did the overall beauty of their sound. Both singers possess the bright clarity and precision we associate with Baroque singing with very appealing qualities of luxury and generosity.

Both also have great coloratura agility, a requirement for treble voices in Baroque music. Taylor flew through his coloratura challenges, but did not have the vehicle for display that this program offered to Van Doren: Amore é qual vento, from Orlando. Here, Handel challenges range as well as agility, and Van Doren showed plenty of power on the bottom. On top, she was astonishing for her speed, pitch in crazy leaps and running scales alike, and the fullness of voice through it all. She not only commanded Handel’s tricky rhythms, she made us understand why all that syncopation is in the piece at all.

A shepherdess wise in the ways of love delivers this aria. The lively rhythm and vocal aerobatics convey her good-humored philosophy about this messy thing called love. Van Doren did not merely get through this insanely difficult music — not to mention add even more spectacular ornaments the second time through — she got the idea of it. She made it flirtatious and funny with purely musical means, and she made it look and sound easy. This performance — the best single act of singing I’ve heard this 2012-13 season, a strong one for singing — drove the audience to an ovation that delayed the concert for several minutes.



Soprano Yulia Van Doren

Through the opera selections and through Pergolesi’s more solemn and utterly gorgeous Stabat Mater, McGegan and the MSO were much more than accompanists. The rhythmic verve, the buoyancy of basso continue, the detail of the dynamics made every corner of the music vibrant. McGegan cast each of Pergolesi’s 12 movements in distinct light of its affect, from aching, declamatory pathos to an optimistic spring in the step bordering on dance. The orchestra, like the singers, applied vibrato judiciously.

Associate concertmaster Ilana Setapen, so brilliant with Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 last week,  took on the big solo part in the odd Charles Avison/Domenico Scarlatti mashup that opened this program. Avison, in this 1743 Concerto Grosso No. 6, simply stole a couple of fast movements from Scarlatti and added a couple of slow movements to go with them.

In the way of all concerti grossi from the period, the contrast of solo, subset and full orchestra is key in this Italianate work. So Setapen was busy on her own and in dialogue or harmony with other principals around the string orchestra, most notably principal second violinist Jennifer Startt. The beauty of their duet foreshadowed the beauty of the singing to follow.

Before the music started, McGegan gave drily witty accounts of the concerto grosso’s appearance in the novel Tristam Shandy and even wittier breakdowns of the opera plots. If he speaks at the repeat performance, at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, do pay attention. Priceless stuff.

0 thoughts on “MSO: Spectacular Baroque Singing”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Loved the concert. Always love your reviews.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for commenting, Mary. I do try. — Strini

  3. Anonymous says:

    Just returned from Sat. McGegan concert. Only 800 there! When will MSO stop scheduling his concerts on holiday weekends. I used to miss him every year because I spend Thanksgiving in San Francisco every year. Now, he appears Easter weekend and the house is less than half full. Embarrassing for Milwaukee. The soloists were the best I’ve heard in a long time. The whole concert was a treat! Thanks for your review.

  4. Anonymous says:

    thanks for commenting Cathy. The MSO, the ballet, the Florentine and the Marcus Center itself must negotiate dates. The MSO does not simply have its pick. — Strini

  5. Anonymous says:

    Review reflected the beauty and passion of every single moment of this totally outstanding concert. It’s just great stuff.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tom Strini! I was there too (thanks to winning tickets from Third Coast Digest), and yours is a succinct and great review, my sentiments exactly!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Glad to help, Christina, and thanks for the kind words. — Strini

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