Singers blend magically in MSO’s Baroque music concert

On March 30, 2013 |
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A pared-down MSO, two remarkable voices and an extremely communicative conductor joined forces in an absolutely captivating evening of Baroque music on Friday.

Guest conductor Nicholas McGegan led about 40 Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra strings, plus harpsichord/continuo organ, through an engaging program of Handel, Pergolesi and Scarlatti. They were joined by soprano Yulia Van Doren and countertenor Daniel Taylor.

The two singers brought distinctly different sounds to the solo and duo arias of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” and several by Handel.

Van Doren’s sound is clear, fluid and extremely facile, while Taylor’s is warm, rich and nimble.

Together, the two were magical.

The pair’s solo arias would have been treat enough for the evening. Both Van Doren and Taylor handled the arias with musical depth and nuance, delivering them with a command of Baroque style that came across the footlights as natural expression rather than musicological rigor.

But the evening’s breathtaking moments occurred in their duo arias, which had the feel of intimate conversations rather than a public performance.

Van Doren and Taylor may produce decidedly different sounds, but they are close in range, with Taylor singing easily and convincingly in the mezzo soprano range. Their sounds contrast in solo passages and complement when heard together.

The secret of their deliveries lay only partially in the contrast/blend of their voices. The real magic lay in their hand-in-glove musical interpretations.

The two singers traded, answered and blended phrases exquisitely, sometimes matching the shape of the other’s phrases in perfect sync, sometimes asking a musical question for the other to answer.

They made ornaments sound simple and natural and used vibrato selectively, for musical expression or dramatic effect. They leaned close to one another to match pitch and blend sound, interacting like the best of musical friends.

McGegan and the instrumentalists provided a good part of the evening’s magic, delivering the Scarlatti Concerto Grosso No. 6 and supporting the singers with the finesse and precision of a fine string quartet.

They executed articulations and ornaments with tremendous musical cohesion, created beautifully shaped phrases, and played with absolutely convincing period style and sensibility.