Thursday, July 22, 1999
The strongest argument in support of this conclusion is Sanford Sylvan, the outstanding baritone whose artistic standards consistently blow his solo vocal colleagues out of the water. Put another way, Sylvan doesn''t square with Weil''s standing ensemble--singers who, by comparison, are retained for their technical consistency rather than expressive spirits.
The proof of this pudding can easily be gauged by the degree to which the singer conveys the meanings of the words. Even if the listener does not instantly identify each word on Sylvan''s tongue, there is no doubt he knows its meaning and inflects it accordingly and with feeling. This was obvious during the bass aria in >"Schleicht, spielende Wellen" and in >"Grosser Herr und starker Knig" from the Christmas Oratorio on Sunday afternoon (the latter, with Wolfgang Basch''s trumpet obbligato, a highlight of the day). By comparison, the tenor aria >"Frohe Hirten, eilt" from the second cantata of the oratorio found Alan Bennett engaged in nothing more than a vocal exercise; he projected neither an idea of the words nor the emotions they might carry.
By only the slightest margin, mezzo soprano Catherine Robbin showed a wider range, but never ventured beyond its narrow path. If, as many have said, music is supposed to "take you by surprise," Robbin''s work in the Saturday cantata and the Sunday oratorio is tediously predictable. In Baroque practice, the reprise of the "A" section of a da capo aria extends an opportunity to add embellishments. (Concertmaster Elizabeth Wallfisch embellishes generously, not always waiting for the repeat.) But Robbin sings the return with exactly the same notes exactly the same way as before. The yearning for something surprising here remains unfulfilled.
In her moment to shine (Saturday night), soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, also narrow of musical expression, added a nervous vibrato to her top, a quality which, if history repeats itself, will hopefully disappear as she relaxes into the pace of the festival. Soprano Kendra Colton, lovely of voice but, like most of her colleagues, timid of expression, provided good service for Saturday''s >"Weichet nur" (a solo "wedding" cantata), and the Sunday oratorio.
Weil is certainly not the only music director to form a team of musicians and then depend on them season after season. But with artists like Sylvan and Wallfisch, who are always stretching and growing, the others, who seem equally determined to suppress expression and hone a narrow technique, run the risk of dulling down the festival. And this will inevitably come back to haunt Weil, as indeed it should--since that is where it starts. Weil''s way with Bach so far has offered momentary highlights in an otherwise pedantic presentation. The briskly paced dotted-rhythms of the opening Orchestra Suite in D plowed forward without any sense of ceremony or exhilaration. (Luckily, Wallfisch gave the reading some personality.) The famous Air on the other hand got some refreshing breath (and, again, lots of juicy Wallfisch).
All sorts of alarm whistles went off in the Christmas oratorio. Weil rushed the finale of the opening movement into blurring textures. Also in the first of the works, six cantatas, the tormented harmonies of the chorale >"Wie soll ich dich emfangen," an anxious premonition of the crucifixion, was breezed through nonchalantly without being allowed to reveal its unique disquiet
Though sometimes Weil doesn''t seem to "get" Bach, he certainly sees himself as a classical-era musician. Hence, a bold and brash reading on Saturday night of Prokofiev''s delicious Symphony 1 "Classical," that spirited homage to Mozart and Haydn. The large orchestra swelled the sonorities to the maximum Sunset Center can handle, but etched its lines with clarity, wanting only a touch more humor in the interpretation.
Last Week''s Quiz:In the 1950s, two world-class classical musicians died in car crashes while driving. Name them. Answer: Violinist Ossy Renardy and hornist Dennis Brain.
This Week''s Quiz:What famous conductor made this remark about Bach, "Too much counterpoint, and what is worse, Protestant counterpoint"?