The Aston Magna concert of July 27 in Saint James Place in Great Barrington featuring music of Johann Pachelbel, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Heitor Villa Lobos was a feast of beauty. The variety of works by these composers gave the ensemble and featured soloists opportunities to display their virtuosity and their admirable expressiveness. Aldo Abreu delighted the audience with brilliant skill in Vivaldi’s Concert for Sopranino Recorder in A minor. He and Christopher Krueger, also on recorder, were then featured in a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, along with violinist Edson Scheid who commanded his solo part with tremendous skill and playfulness.
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.
This performance was a frolic. It displayed a combination of two quite different buffo operas, and yes, it worked. Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Livietta e Tracollo combined, found a zany success. I had my doubts at first, but was laughing my head off soon enough. The better-known of the two, La Serva Padrona, revolves around the character Uberto, a pomposo, energetically sung by Douglas Williams. Sad Tracollo was sung winningly by Jesse Blumberg.
Aston Magna’s J.S. Bach concert in The Mahaiwe Theatre was a banquet of riches. The music itself ranged from abject woe in Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen to vaudeville hijinks in The Singing Contest of Phoebus and Pan. Where do I begin? The unique singing of Dominque Labelle arrests the senses. You must listen to it. Ulysses Thomas’s rich, aristocratic voice, Jesse Blumberg’s clear, actorly voice, William Hite’s beautiful, beautiful tenor, each spoke eloquently. Above all, the redoubtable Frank Kelley’s complete control of the act of singing, his exaggeration (wildly funny), his movement, and most wonderful of all, the subtle creativity of his timing, brought the house down. He is the complete package.
Good-bye, intrepid mentor: girl from the South, great sense of humor, ears which heard better than God, straight talker, full of encouragement, indefatigable, for us who knew her, eternal. An American singer who with her frequent counterpart, Norman Treigle, showed the world that we Yanks could sing. Miss Curtin never sang a phrase that wasn’t dramatic. Many great artists have come and gone in our beloved Tanglewood family, but the very air is tinged with Phyllis Curtin.
Hours and hours of the composer’s music in a 24-hour span. I’ve heard a lot of bad Monteverdi—valiant efforts, not enough skill. The style is fundamentally performer-dependent. In Aston Magna’s Monteverdi concert on Saturday at Simon’s Rock and the Boston Early Music Festival’s performances of the Vespers and Orfeo Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, we were able to hear these works with first-rate artists who have the right voices and the style under their belts. Half of the time, I was listening to duets by two tenors, a hallmark of Monteverdi’s larger works. These were brilliantly undertaken by Frank Kelley and William Hite in the Aston Magna concert.
This spring has been teeming with a dizzying profusion of riches for the lover of early music in the Northeast. In April Carnegie Hall launched “Before Bach,” a month-long festival of Renaissance and Baroque music performed by the the most admired international groups and soloists in the field. Since this was an “on” year for The Boston Early Music Festival, an equally distinguished group of regulars and visitors just now packed about the same amount of musical activity into a week, supplemented by hosts of mostly outstanding comprimarii in its Fringe. This coming weekend BEMF’s western coda, consisting of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and his Orfeo, both performed in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, will overlap with the first weekend of one of the oldest festivals of early music, Aston Magna.