It's hard to imagine a more blessedly well-matched trio of vocal soloists, both technically and temperamentally. Keith Jameson's strong but sweet tenor excelled in Uriel's enthusiastic description of the creation of Man. Expressively resonant bass-baritone Kevin Deas seemed eloquently amused in his report of the origin of insects, and he made a proud and deeply tender, though would-be-macho, Adam. And soprano Amanda Forsyth matched glittering trill for trill the larks and nightingales she was describing. Her Eve was all devotion, but the glint in her eye and twinkle in her voice suggested an equal affection for apple sauce. Her advanced state of pregnancy hasn't compromised her vocal power and refinement — maybe even added a greater warmth.
The chorus and orchestra (including an eight-foot-high Baroque contrabassoon) sailed through director Martin Pearlman's generally quick tempos. His affection for this piece was always present, maybe less so his pure joy. This performance is being recorded and will surely make a lovely souvenir for anyone who wants to hear it again, and a consolation for anyone who missed it.
The Celebrity Series of Boston in association with the Boston Early Music Festival gave us a two-star concert: German countertenor Andréas Scholl with the English Concert, a superb chamber group of period-instrument players led by Liverpudlian Harry Bicket. The concert included two attractive if not exactly thrilling pieces by obscure Baroque composers: Heinrich Biber's Trumpet Sonata à 6, with impressive English Concert trumpeter Mark Bennett, and the Passacaglia from a sonata by Alsatian composer Georg Muffat. But the rest of the program was music by Purcell, including overtures, dances, and other charming musical interludes from two of his large-scale works: King Arthur and The Fairy Queen. Scholl sang arias from these and a batch of Purcell's greatest hits, including the famous "Dido's Lament" (written for Queen Dido, a woman) from his opera Dido and Aeneas.
Scholl has one of the largest and most luscious countertenor voices in the world, and he sings with great musicality, sweetness, and sometimes with equal imagination. I liked the way in "Sweeter than roses," after extended legato singing, he abruptly stopped on the word "kiss" and the almost endless melisma on the final "Hallelujah" of "An Evening Hymn." I loved his breathless staccato shivers in "What Powers Art Thou," the aria by "the Cold Genius" (Winter himself) from King Arthur.
But there's also a side of Scholl that doesn't engage with the text. "One Charming Night" from The Fairy Queen is a sexy little joke of a song ("One charming Night/Gives more delight/Than a hundred lucky days"). But Scholl sang it solemnly, as if he hadn't a clue to its obvious intent. In "Oh solitude, my sweetest choice," a setting of an English translation of a French song clearly modeled on Milton's "Il Penseroso," Scholl never displayed the poem's passion for solitude, just as in the marvelous tribute to England in The Fairy Queen's "Fairest Isle," Scholl might just as well have been singing about a book he read (nonfiction) or a friend in the hospital: he was serious, abstract, and conveyed no sense of the way words project particular feelings.