Sorrell lights up Baroque favorites with New World Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Jeannette Sorrell conducted the New World Symphony Sunday at New World Center. Photo: Apollo’s Fire

The historical and period instrument movement have been invaluable in researching the musical traditions and performing practices of the early Baroque and Classical eras. Some artists specializing in recreating original presentation concepts have become so didactic, however, that their music-making has taken on its own anachronisms, resulting in stodgy, heavy-handed performances. 

Jeannette Sorrell is not one of that group. The co-founder and conductor of the Cleveland-based period band Apollo’s Fire combines the best aspects of musicological scholarship with a modernist sensibility. Sorrell returned to the podium of the New World Symphony Sunday for a program that mixed familiar standards with rarities, lifting spirits on a rainy afternoon.

Sorrell’s own compilation of 11 movements from Handel’s Water Music proved a revelation. Fielding 23 players, Sorrell led a lithe, robust performance. Spot-on, accurate trills from two horns and incisive, vibrato-less strings sparked a reading that danced, springing forth with irrepressible energy. Taking the Andante at an unusually brisk clip, Sorrell made every instrumental detail transparent. In the Bourrée, Hornpipe and Menuet, country fiddling fused with pristine classicism to charming effect. 

Wesley Ducote’s harpsichord underpinning added depth to the ensemble and two silver-toned flutes seemed to float over beguiling sonic waves. For the final selections, Sorrell had two horns and two trumpets on opposite sides of the stage stand, creating antiphonal effects that engulfed and echoed through the auditorium. The 30- minute performing time seemed to fly by in an instant. One could hardly imagine a more idiomatic or vital reading of this Handelian gem. One only wished the complete score had been played.

With Sorrell at the harpsichord, New World fellows Ka-Yeon Lee, Minglun Liu, Sabrina Parry and Beatrice Hsieh  took the solo spotlight in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B minor.  The quartet of players were well matched, displaying vigor and precision. In the Largo, the rapid central episode was strongly characterized and differentiated from the solemn pages surrounding it. The soloists’ high-speed romp through the final Allegro concluded this reading on an exciting note.

Soprano Sonya Headlam performed with Jeannette Sorrell and the New World Symphony on Sunday. Photo: Siggi Bachmann

Jamaican-born soprano Sonya Headlam was an entrancing soloist in works by Joseph Bologne and Mozart. Composer, violinist, orchestral director, and swordsman, Bologne  was one of the most important musicians in 18th-century Paris. An aria from L’Amant anonyme (The  Anonymous Lover), Bologne’s sole surviving opera, seemed a stylistic bridge between Baroque opera and Mozart. Headlam deftly projected the heroine’s bewilderment at feeling a love that she had foresworn.

The motet Exultate Jubilate is Mozart’s first true masterpiece, written at the tender age of sixteen. Headlam’s light timbre, velvety middle voice and on-the-mark coloratura proved a perfect match of singer and score. She scaled the famous concluding Alleluja in a joyous manner, marked by elan and flawless intonation. Except for an overly deliberate tempo in the central aria, Sorrell’s accompaniment expertly balanced orchestral and vocal lines.

The ballet music that Mozart wrote to conclude his 1881 opera Idomeneo is nearly always excised when the opera is staged. That is unfortunate because the music is top-drawer Mozart. Adapting Baroque musical forms like the chaconne, passepied and gavotte, Mozart stamped them with his own voice. Sorrell combined high voltage excitement and period grace in equal proportion. A flashy finale (in which one can easily imagine dancers gliding through the air) exuded brilliance and panache.

In classical and Baroque repertoire, Sorrell is difficult to surpass. She needs to return to New World soon for the benefit of fellows and audiences alike.

The New World Symphony under Carlos Miguel Prieto plays De Falla’s El Amor Brujo, The Three Cornered Hat and Interlude and Dance from La Vida Breve with vocalist Esperanza Fernández, soprano Catalina Cuervo and dancers from Ballet National de Epaña 7:30 p.m. December 9 and 10 at New World Center in Miami Beach.            

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Mon Nov 21, 2022
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