Soprano Kiehr and colleagues open Tropical Baroque Festival in style

By Lawrence Budmen

Soprano Maria Christina Kiehr

Soprano Maria Christina Kiehr

The Miami Bach Society’s eleventh annual Tropical Baroque Music Festival commenced with a winning evening of vocal and instrumental scores from the Italian Baroque Saturday night at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables. Titled “A Concert at Palazzo Ruspoli,” the performance by the French-based ensemble Concerto Soave sought to recreate a musicale at the 18th-century palace of Prince Francesco Ruspoli, a Roman center of music and art that attracted the greatest creative artists from the Italian provinces and beyond.

As a tantalizing prelude to the main event, the group’s director Jean-Marc Aymes and soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr presented a thirty-minute program of works for organ and voice. The organ works of Girolamo Frescobaldi are ground-breaking milestones for the instrument that greatly influenced Johann Sebastian Bach. Aymes rendered the Italian master’s resounding Toccata ottava with deft finesse on the church’s fine console organ. Kiehr, a vocal star of the historically informed performance movement, sang Bonizazio Graziani’s operatic setting of the Regina Coeli, spotlighting her radiant upper register and distinctive color and timbre.

With Kiehr and Aymes joined by colleagues Gaetano Nasillo (cello) and Laure Vovard (Baroque harp), the cantata Stelle, perfide stelle (La Partenza) by the young Georg Friderich Handel, a visitor to 18th-century Rome, proved an impressive showcase. Kiehr’s fierce declamation of recitative commands attention but she can spin a melodic line in a mesmerizing array of vocal coloration. A melding of Italianate energy and austere soulfulness, Kiehr’s ardent passion in her final aria Quando ritornero was powerfully intense in its depth of sorrow.

The gallery at the Palazzo Ruspoli

Aymes’ exceptional keyboard talent took solo spotlight in four movements from Handel’s 1720 harpsichord suites including a surprisingly romantic theme and variations, rendered with impressive facility and lightness of touch.

Alessandro Scarlatti’s cantata Gia vicina e quell’ ora (Already the hour approaches) is a virtual monodrama, the protagonist’s acceptance of death taking her from sadness at leaving her beloved to faith that love will endure in another realm. Aymes brought vivacious energy to the ornate harpsichord interludes. Kiehr’s distinctively pure sound, sans vibrato, fit this emotionally throbbing, volatile piece like a glove. She projected drama and heroism, the voice evenly produced and flawless in coloratura embellishments up and down the vocal scale. Nasillo’s vigorous attack and dynamic thrust was enhanced by the vibrant resonance of his Baroque cello with gut strings producing a deeper tone.

Playing an instrument borrowed from the Library of Congress, Vovard gave an impressive demonstration of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Baroque harp in Handel’s Suite in D. With three rows of strings, this instrument has a larger sound than the modern harp but requires greater agility.

The evening’s true highlight was Kiehr’s dynamic performance of Handel’s searing O Numi eterni (O eternal God) from La Lucrezia. Based on the same story of the rape and suicide of a Roman noblewoman as Benjamin Britten’s 1947 opera, Handel’s solo drama is filled with sensuous melodies (reminiscent of his operas Giulio Cesare and Alcina) and flaming bursts of angry recitative. Kiehr, a great singing actress, reveled in the score’s inspired turns of phrase and mood swings, the concluding fiery declamation bringing the curtain down with emotive power. The excellent instrumental ensemble mirrored the heroine’s emotional spectrum from softly meditative sounds to fierce outcries, a riveting finale to a stimulating festival opener.

The Tropical Baroque Music Festival continues 8 P.M. Sunday with the Miami Brass under Brian Neal at the Biltmore Hotel Country Club Ballroom. Vittorio Ghielmi (viola da gamba) and Luca Pianca (lute)present a recital Monday, 8 P.M. at Coral Gables Congregational Church. The Orlando Consort sings Guillaume Dufay 8 P.M. Tuesday at Riviera Presbyterian Church. 305-669-1376,

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Sun Feb 28, 2010
at 12:16 pm
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