Review: Dueling keyboardists and a fist full of arias

Pianists David Schrader
Pianists David Schrader

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Baroque Band opened its 2015-16 season in Hyde Park at the Augustana Lutheran Church on Saturday night with music that put the spotlight on both harpsichord and fortepiano. The guest soloist for the former was harpsichordist and conductor Ian Watson with the soloist for the latter being Baroque Band’s own David Schrader. Both keyboardists dazzled the audience in this well-attended concert led by Baroque Band founder and artistic director Garry Clarke.

The highlight of the evening was when Clarke turned over the reins to Watson who then led the ensemble from the harpsichord in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. In his extended solo in the first movement, Watson was spellbinding with his dazzling keyboard work. He commanded the rapt attention of the audience, as his fingers dashed up and down the keys with glorious speed and artistry. Watson was joined by soloists Emily Dahl on violin and Leighann Daihl Ragusa on flute, who both sounded at times tentative and Ragusa’s flute was often lost in the church’s very live acoustics. (After the concert I overheard one person describe the venue as sounding “bathtubby.”) Yet overall, the soloists and the ensemble members offered an energetic and entertaining account.

Johann Wilhelm Hertel’s Fortepiano Concerto in F Minor provided an opportunity for Schrader to put his keyboard dexterity on display. His ornaments were sparkling, his finger work crisp, and the slow movement showcased his gentle, poetic abilities. Clarke led the band with style, with particularly gleaming work by the strings.
The concert closed with C.P.E. Bach’s Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord, which gave the audience a chance to hear great solo work from both keyboardists. This charming piece is full of splendid dialogues between fortepiano and harpsichord, with Schrader and Watson making the conversation most delectable.

Also on the program were two works that put both keyboards into the ensemble. C.P.E. Bach’s Sinfonie No. 5 in B Minor had many little melodies with a singing quality and lots of dramatic sound from the strings. The performance of Thomas Augustine Arne’s Overture No. 7 in D Major included not just two keyboards, but two flutes and this boosted the woodwind sound considerably.

Baroque Band’s next appearance in Hyde Park is in the new year when the program includes music by Handel, Pepusch, Geminiani, Bononcini, Greene, and Boyce. For more information, visit baroqueband.org.

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The latest concert in the Resurrection Music Series at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hyde Park took place the first Sunday of this month and proved that music director Luciano Laurentin knows how to bring fine singers to one of Hyde Park’s prettiest churches, how to construct an engaging program, and how to draw in members of the public.

It was a concert of opera hits with a large collection of established as well as up-and-coming singers who created a crowd-pleasing evening. There were several stand-out performances, starting with Kirsten Leslie. She’s a slender and petite soprano, so it was astonishing to hear her sing “Caro nome” from “Rigoletto” with incredible force and vocal power. She also had an attractive dark tinge to her voice for “Ah! Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.”

Soprano Kimberly Jones gave a show stopping performance of “Vissi d’arte,” bringing the anguish of Puccini’s tragic Tosca to life, and she had some beautifully floating top notes in “Io son l’umile ancella” from “Adriana Lecouvreur.”

Tenor Cornelius Johnson served up a pleasing and urbane “La donna è mobile,” the Duke’s excuse for womanizing from “Rigoletto.” It was all the more effective for his knowing gestures and cheeky facial expressions. This talented singer, who is also the artistic director of the South Shore Opera Company, additionally offered a supple account of “Recondita armonia” from “Tosca.”

Baritone Dan Richardson proved to be an effective storyteller in his suave performance of the Toreador Song from “Carmen.” There was an emotionally charged “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka” by soprano Miroslava Sojka-Topor, and an introspective excerpt from Wagner by baritone Aaron Wardell. A Mozart aria sung by soprano Elyse Kakacek had languid beauty, and a Puccini excerpt offered by tenor Zachary Vanderburg was thoughtful and multi-colored.

Accompanying them all at the piano was Laurentin, who played with ease throughout a concert that encompassed a wide range of composers and styles. His feathery light touch at the top of the keyboard was attractive and he never lost a beat even when he smudged a passage here or there. More importantly, he was a splendid collaborator, who played sensitively and with every attention to each individual singer.

Word is getting out that these concerts offer fine performances. The audience of over 200 was more than twice the size of the previous concert in the series. For information on future events, visit stapostleparish.org.