Bach Aria Soloist Review – KC Metropolis





Four hundred years ago, in 1617, the two-part El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha, commonly known as Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, was published in a combined edition for the first time. This literary masterpiece has certainly inspired generations of writers, but it has also been the subject of musical works, including George Philipp Telemann and, famously, Richard Strauss. For their latest concert, titled “The Adventures of Don Quixote,” the Bach Aria Soloists took Telemann’s Suite Burlesque de Quixotteand used it to anchor a performance that presented six scenes from Don Quixote, illustrated by spoken word and musical commentary.

Collaborating with actors is nothing new for BAS, and many of their recent projects incorporating drama have been successful. Saturday’s concert saw Mark Robbins playing the role of Don Quixote and, occasionally, the narrator Cervantes. His voice was commanding—albeit over-amplified by the church’s sound system—and he spoke with a cadence that made the text clear and the emotional content easy to grasp. In three scenes, he gave monologues as Cervantes, while, in the other half of the vignettes, his Quixote interacted with Sancho Panza, played by Jorge Santizo. Their chemistry was natural and effective, never appearing forced, and they exhibited great skill at acting out Patrick Neas’s colorful dramatic adaptation of Don Quixote. The only flaw was that, from time to time, a monologue or dialogue would occur in the middle of a set rather than at the beginning, so, for a while, the music lacked the proper context.

The regular ensemble of BAS, joined by cellist Sascha Groschang, performed with their usual flair for combining unique interpretations with steadfast artistic integrity. Their commitment to the repertoire of, primarily, seventeenth-century Spanish music made for a convincing array of expressive possibilities, especially in their performance of the complex rhythms typical of that music. For example, the well-executed rhythmic shifts in Yo soy la Locura, by Henry du Bailly, helped reinforce the text’s theme of “madness.” Some of the interpretive decisions did gild the lily—like the exaggerated violin “sighs,” which lost their novelty quickly, in Telemann’s “Sighs of Dulcinea”—but this reviewer appreciated the risks that the ensemble took in service of the music. Occasionally, the nuances of soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson’s voice got lost amid the instrumentation, and a less-is-more attitude toward performing the music, which worked so well in the “Awakening of Don Quixote” movement of the Telemann, would have benefited more of the concert’s selections.

Finally, it must be mentioned—as has been the case all season—how enjoyable it always is to hear an ensemble that is able to communicate so well with each other. Harpsichordist Elisa Williams Bickers and guitarist Beau Bledsoe worked in tandem to produce chordal figurations that enhanced the structure of the music, and Bickers and Groschang had several moments of thrilling synchronicity in faster passages. True to this spirit, Saturday night’s interesting collaboration brought more performers into the fold but did not lose its sense of direction and purpose.

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