A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 143: Aston Magna in Great Barrington: “A Baroque Cornucopia”

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St. James Place, Great Barrington, MA
St. James Place, Great Barrington, MA

What is best in Aston Magna’s concerts is a complete lack of pretension, whether it is Daniel Stepner’s quiet erudition or the singing of soprano Dominique Labelle, who shows an almost childlike identification with the music she sings, this requiring of course, a superb technique. The players take pleasure in the style which they have mastered so completely. It doesn’t proselytize or force anything on you. We are a family, privileged to hear some of the greatest music there is. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 had a beautiful sense of ease and location. In the first movement solo cadenza, harpsichordist Michael Sponseller showed a virtuosity that had depth, not just technique. In Telemann’s Sonata for two instruments with continuo, Julie Leven, violin, and Andrew Schwartz, bassoon, made us smile as we heard sounds rarely paired.

The whole bevy of instruments was also a family, and the renovated hall of Saint James Place bathed us in beauty. The renovated space is one of the best new performance venues I know. Dan Stepner led without putting on a show; he was at one with his band. Laura Jeppesen, baroque viola, also stood with the players who have been together for a long time. Again, Dominique Labelle held the crowd breathless. I hear no attempt on her behalf to sing straight, as they say. It is inherent in her voice that the tones are already heard before they are sung, and the depth of this brings tears to the eyes.

Following two lovely German arias by George Frideric Handel, Ms. Labelle moved everyone with her beautifully rendered performance of J.S. Bach’s solo cantata, Ich habe genug, BWV 82. The character-full texts from the Book of Luke were sung with deep feeling and exquisite vocal line by Ms. Labelle. Last but certainly not least, were two fine gentlemen deserving praise, the elegant Christopher Krueger and his magic flute, and Alex Burtzos, whose arresting composition, “The Hourglass Equation,” marked for me a first time hearing new music played on these instruments.

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