Sunday, April 28, 2013


First Baptist Church
April 27

Bright, effervescent takes on Haydn and Mozart.

It would not be quite correct to say that Apollo’s Fire saved the best for last in this season’s concert series. But it’s tempting, after seeing Amanda Forsythe sing with the ensemble in a closing program of opera arias and symphonic works by Haydn and Mozart.

Interestingly, Forsythe starts her professional bio with her 2007 European debut (at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy), skipping her training at the New England Conservatory of Music and early work in New England, where she was a vocal fellow at Tanglewood and regular performer with Boston Baroque. Over the past six years she has built an impressive career on both sides of the Atlantic, appearing at prestigious European venues such as Covent Garden and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and with a variety of period ensembles in the U.S.

A delicate, graceful voice.
Forsythe’s lyrical soprano has been rightly praised for its agility and delicacy, and her style and delivery are well-suited for early music. She sings with grace and understated expression, relying on clarity and purity of tone to convey emotional impact. A hint of vulnerability in her voice adds passion and longing, and her technical skills are superb, as she had a chance to demonstrate in some challenging Mozart coloratura passages.

The first came in a pair of arias from the early opera Lucio Silla (1772). Forsythe started small and controlled with “Fra i pensieri più funesti,” using color and ornamentation to gradually build and carry the emotional swell to a dramatic finish. Her expression blossomed in “Parto, m’affretto,” with notes of anguish giving way to a burst of well-enunciated coloratura runs, notable for their precision and craftsmanship.

Forsythe seemed stronger and more self-assured after intermission, opening “Fra un dolce delirio” from Haydn’s L’Isola disabitata in fuller voice and hitting some beautiful crystalline high notes. Segueing immediately to the “Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate, she spun off another glittering series of coloratura lines that brought the audience to its feet. Her encore, “Voi che sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro, was not as radiant, lovely in tone but less compelling in content.

The same might be said for much of the musical program, which opened with the overture to Mozart’s La Finta Semplice. Music Director Jeannette Sorrell conducted a full chamber orchestra with her usual flair, eliciting the light, airy sound that characterizes Apollo’s Fire. The frothy approach adds wonderful zest and energy to confections like the La Finta overture, but works less well in pieces like Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 (Mourning). Two selections from that called for dramatic notes and darker tones, which never got very dark. The ensemble is almost incessantly bright, and for these was not able to develop much contrast and depth until the final bars.

Haydn fared better in the second half, with a sturdy, even solemn rendering of the overture to L’Isola disabitata, paced by a measured tempo that added definition to the sound. Forsythe came back and left before the ensemble played the closing selection, Mozart’s Symphony No. 33. It seemed a bit anticlimactic after the singer’s encore, and an odd choice for the program, a relatively conservative work that reflects the composer’s unhappy situation in Salzburg. The piece started a bit choppy and never delved much below the surface, which was elegantly played but failed to develop any dynamics. 

The violins, however, were gorgeous, as they had been for most of the night. Whatever else the ensemble is or is not doing, Apollo’s Fire always features heavenly, heartfelt violins.

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