REVIEWS

Washington Life Magazine, November 2013, by Patrick McCoy
"Countertenor Chris Dudley  provided an element of wonderment to the programs by the consort as he unassumingly took his place on the performance platform and then offered forth a sound of stunning beauty and vocal depth; it was particularly evident in his rendering of the aria “Qui sedes ad dexteram patris.”

 

It certainly speaks volumes when a composer’s music can stand on its own after giving a gentle ‘nod’ to the music of other composers in the same program. The Washington Bach Consort concert at National Presbyterian Church did just that, as the concert featured the vocal and instrumental works of some of Bach’s musical colleagues from the Italian school such as Antonio Vivaldi, Tomaso Albinoni and perhaps the less familiar, Francesco Conti. Even though the pieces of the contrasting composers provided several points of interests, it was clear in the subtle interpolation of Bach’s pieces throughout that his music reigned supreme.  The afternoon began with the “Concerto for Trumpet, Oboe and Strings in D” (RV 563) by Vivaldi, featuring consort principals Josh Cohen and Geoffrey Burgess. Cohen’s trumpet coupled with the inner weaving lines of Burgess’ oboe were both masterful examples of the composer’s writing for the solo instruments, while at the same time accentuating the importance of the ensemble’s supportive strings.  Organist Todd Fickley then performed J. S. Bach’s “Fugue in B Minor after Corelli” ( BWV 579). Offering the first Bach work on the program, Fickley played with skillful assurance, capturing the clean, distinct entrance of each voice of the fugal work. Light moments are one of things that attract many listeners to the concerts of The Washington Consort, and this concert did not disappoint as just before Fickley was about to play a brief organ malfunction occurred holding the audience at bay. But consort music director J. Reilly Lewis and the organist skillfully entertained the audience as the problem was resolved.  One of the lesser known composers of the concert, Francesco Conti, was represented by soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani in the motet “Languet anima mea.” A welcomed contrast to the solely instrumental offerings, Kampani sang with a production that hinted at both old and new, with a mix of straight tones and liberal use of vibrato. The vigorous accompaniment married with the assured singing of Kampani seemed to hearken to the dexterity in the vocal works of Bach. The coloratura passages of the concluding ‘Amen’ showed the soprano in fine form.  Lewis showed his virtuosic prowess at the organ in Bach’s “Concerto in A Minor after Vivaldi” (BWV 593). This was a fine showcase for National Presbyterian Church’s great Skinner organ, as Lewis made fine use of the instrument’s antiphonal division in which the rear pipes answered those in the front of the church. Rounding out the first half of the program was a setting of the “Magnificat” by Giovanni Pergolesi. The opening chorus was conducted by Lewis at a sprightly tempo, championed by both the singers and instrumentalists. In the brief duet, “Sucepit Israeil,”  tenor Jason Rylander and baritone Mark Duer blended well together, setting the tone for the more expansive “Sicut locutus est” that followed by the choir and orchestra. The “Sicut erat” was a recapitulation of the same music heard in the opening “Magnificat” chorus and brought the work to its close.  Highlighting the second half of the program was the beloved “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi. Lewis conducted at a brisk tempo in the initial opening chorus, making the contrasting slower movements more poignantly noticeable.  Sopranos Kampani and Robin Smith were certainly standouts in the “Laudamus te,” in which their voices negotiated the moving contours of the musical line, punctuated by uniformity in phrasing. Countertenor Chris Dudley  provided an element of wonderment to the programs by the consort as he unassumingly took his place on the performance platform and then offered forth a sound of stunning beauty and vocal depth; it was particularly evident in his rendering of the aria “Qui sedes ad dexteram patris.”  The Washington Bach Consort gave an overview of other composers that Bach influenced and were influenced by him. Though the gems of this concert were not necessarily all his, this opening concert established that no matter where you put his music on a program, it is never in the ‘Bach” of one’s mind. 


 
The Baltimore Sun, November 2013, by Mary Johnson
"Countertenor Chris Dudley sang Psalm 23 magnificently, presenting the word "Adonai" as a soung of sublime adoration."

 

Once again, Green and the 160 voices of the Annapolis Chorale, accompanied by the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, produced a bright sound to enthrall near-capacity audiences.  The chorale sang of peace and tranquillity in a mix of familiar and new music. The mood throughout was melodically serene, with major drama occurring in Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms."  The tone of the performance was set with the opening piece, Gabriel Faure's "Requiem" in D minor, which differs from the usual Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead in its absence of a frightening "Dies Irae."  The result was a serene mood throughout. The work softly drew listeners in as female voices in pianissimo were echoed by male voices with string accompaniment, progressing to an exultant ending.  Other segments extended the expression of faith and tranquillity, with soloists baritone Nathan Wyatt and tenor David Merrill adding their voices. Soprano Caitlin Vincent sang a lovely "Pie Jesu," resembling a lullaby that grows in spellbinding intensity.  The Annapolis Chamber Orchestra extended the mood with two instrumental works: Johann Sebastian Bach's "Air" from Suite No. 3 in D major and Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G minor, a familiar romantic work that sounded more 20th century than 18th.  Green again displayed his programming skills by recognizing how well contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks' haunting "Pater Noster" would combine with two of his favorite works for chorus and orchestra — Faure's "Requiem" and Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms." Usually described as a minimalist, "Pater Noster" seemed distinctly contemporary in its reverence and harmony.  Green saved the best for last in "Chichester Psalms," the masterful 20th-century hymn melding American music set to Psalms in Hebrew. It is indeed music that sings to the souls. Evoking the high drama of the text, the chorus and orchestra summoned the audience to prayer in Psalm 108, "I will awake the dawn," and in Psalm 100, "Make a joyful noise Unto the Lord all ye lands."  Crashing cymbals and timpani seemed to rumble from the depths of the earth, and became highly rhythmic with joyous female voices contrasting with agitated male voices. At both Maryland Hall performances, Countertenor Chris Dudley sang Psalm 23 magnificently, presenting the word "Adonai" as a sound of sublime adoration.

The Washington Post, September 2013, by Cecilia Porter
"Countertenor Chris Dudley poured singuar gusto into G. B. Pergolesi's Magnificat in B-Flat Major."

 

Under its founder and director, J. Reilly Lewis, the Washington Bach Consort, one of Washington’s world-class chamber ensembles, presented an adventurous almost three-hour-long program of “Bach, Vivaldi and the Italian Influence” at the National Presbyterian Church on Sunday.  The afternoon’s music demonstrated that, like multitudes of northern European composers, Johann Sebastian Bach fell head over heels for Italian music, which permeated the style and formal structures of his concertos, cantatas, fugues and other works. Heincorporated many Italian compositions, as well as his own previous music, into new works. Or he found an Italian work that drove him to extend it, or inserted a theme from the work into a new composition. In Bach’s day, his refiguring of a composition wasn’t considered plagiarism. Everybody did it.  Sunday’s performance was a glorious venture — despite a few glitches — into Bach’s Italianate leanings, as in a zesty version of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Trumpet (Josh Cohen), Oboe (Geoffrey Burgess), and Strings in D Major, RV 563, playfully rendered by the ensemble. Todd Fickley took to the organ for Bach’s Fugue in B Minor after Arcangelo Corelli, BWV 579, clearly articulating Corelli’s fugue subject. Bach arranged Francesco Bartolomeo Conti’s solo motet, Languet anima mea, into a languishing solo cantata, BWV 1006, sung by soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani, though her big voice was a bit wobbly.  Lewis made sure that Venetian spaciousness and light broke through Bach’s dense imitative textures in his Concerto in A Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 593:1. Endless tonal colors were supported by the copious resources of National’s Skinner organ with its four manuals (keyboards) and pedal keyboard.  Soprano Robin Smith, Countertenor Chris Dudley, tenor Jason Rylander and baritone Mark Duer poured singular gusto into Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Magnificat in B-Flat Major, followed by the strings in a spritely Concerto of Tomaso Albinoni. Duer also revealed how successfully Bach could absorb an Italian madrigal’s lust for vengeance in his solo cantata Amore Traditore, BWV 203. To conclude, soloists and chamber choir joined forces for Vivaldi’s vibrant, familiar Gloria, RV 589.

Washington Life Magazine, October 2012, Patrick McCoy
"Glowing moments emerged, especially with the lovely singing by countertenor Chris Dudley on “Vouchsafe, O Lord.”

 

In 1977 when J. Reilly Lewis began the Washington Bach Consort, his passion for the masterful composer Johann Sebastian Bach was nurtured by a cadre of loyal supporters. That was most evident as the faithful audience filled National Presbyterian Church for the opening concert of the 35th anniversary season just a few weeks ago. One of its most ardent supporters was Bee Stelloh, in whose memory the concert was presented.

Themed “Kings and Commoners,” Lewis conducted the consort in a range of celebratory works by Bach, Handel, John Blow, Orlando Gibbons and William Boyce. Just as in present times, much fanfare surrounds a political election. In Bach’s day, music of great grandeur heralded the rise of a great leader. That sentiment was summoned forth in Boyce’s “The King Shall Rejoice.” Reminiscent of Handel’s writing style, the text of the work was often reinforced by a musical idea. Notable was the appearance of the trumpets on the phrase “and shall a crown upon his head,” evoking quite an image. The brass and percussion definitely played an integral part in the chosen repertoire. Following the intermission, the consort began with Handel’s “My Heart is Inditing.”

Bach’s cantata Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, BWV119 immediately gave a sense of majesty to the carefully themed program. The tenor Joseph Gaines sang elegantly with a sense of stylistic finesse. His tone contained a wonderful variety of nuances, with the vibrato evenly placed. The projection of his vocal delivery was generous, negotiating the demands of the composer’s involved writing with graceful ease. Bass Jon Bruno brought a wonderful dark contrast with his fervent rendering of the accompanied recitative. At the portative organ, Todd Fickley along with William Simms (theorbo) and Patricia Neely (string bass) provided a solid continuo throughout. Blow’s “God Spake” was more reflective, accompanied by Fickley at the organ. The arching rise of the upper voices were given ample foundation by the solid bass section.

The “Te Deum” by Orlando Gibbons revealed some wonderful solo voices, but lacked a sense of cohesion among the soloists. In particular, the voices seemed to come from a variety of directions, as opposed to having all of the soloists in direct proximity with each other. Still, glowing moments emerged, especially with the lovely singing by countertenor Chris Dudley on “Vouchsafe, O Lord” and an unexpected delight in the voice of countertenor Roger Isaacs, who emerged in “Thou sittest at the right hand” with an impressive instrument.

One could not have planned a more glorious ending to a concert of such celebratory nature than Bach’s Cantata No. 69, Lobet Den Herrn, Meine Seele. Not only was the work a temple of masterful choral singing, but it is one of great virtuosity for the consort singers and players alike. “It is a masterpiece contraptually” Reilly said as he explained the structural makeup of the piece. Michelle Humphries’ rhythmic precision on the tympani added greatly to the music’s joyous pomp. Fiendishly difficult, the multiple musical themes tossed around the ensemble were like the ultimate musical stamp of approval of Bach’s genius.

Soprano Rebecca Kellerman Pertretta rendered her solo recitatives with an angelic presence as she stood well-poised from her place in the choir. In the solo aria “Meine Seele” sung by mezzo Kristen Dubenion-Smith, the listener basked in the luxuriant richness of her lower register, while marveling at the facility of her upper tessitura. Her ornaments were well placed throughout and never detracted from the essence of the solo line. As she declared “Meine Seele” or “my soul,” the depth of her conviction and connection to the music came through. Jon Bruno sang the aria “Mein Erloser” with a firm, resonant bass. Geoffrey Burgess was consistently stellar, alternating between the oboe da caccia (“hunting oboe”) and baroque oboe. The final chorale “May You, O God, Be Thanked and Praised” was, in a sense, a choral blessing, with the voices and instruments raised in thanksgiving: celebrating the vision of a young commoner, now full grown into an ensemble of musical “kingly” presence.

 
 

 
DC Performing Arts Examiner, December 2011, Patrick McCoy
"Countertenor Chris Dudley gave a thrilling interpretation of "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion." Dudley was a good steward of stylistic performance practice, dispatching a series of impressive ornaments in the aria.”

 

Handel’s Messiah is by many considered to be the greatest choral work in the Western world. But just as much as it is adored, it is also loathed on the same breath for its repetition year after year. With all the “microwave” performances of the work by choirs who simply dust it off year after year, warm it up and them perform it as they always have, it is easy to see why some audiences grow weary.  A performance like the one led by Dr. J. Owen Burdick and the Choir and Baroque Ensemble of Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes would turn any skeptic around about the power of the grand oratorio. Thoughtful performances such as Sunday’s performance by Burdick and his fine ensemble revealed a new perspective to the work, through fresh lenses. The church was full for the anticipated presentation and it was also a ‘debut’ sort to speak for Burdick. Arriving to D. C. in 2008, the distinguished music director came quietly with little fanfare. Sunday’s performance under his direction was only a foretaste of his impact on the D. C. Baroque music scene.  The overture was remarkably different. In the beginning, Burdick conducted the baroque ensemble at a restrained dynamic. Then at the return of the theme, the ensemble played with a more marked articulation. This contrast in dynamics and rhythmic stress was a wonderful diversion to the usually over-dotted style of the French overture.  Tenor Stephen White offered forth “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley.” White’s voice was of a light, attractive quality, but at times got lost in the acoustic of the sanctuary.  In recent years, audiences have grown accustomed to seeing four principal soloists. For this performance all of the soloists were taken from the choir. It was a thrilling effect to listen as each individual soloist brought a unique dimension to their aria. Each section for Sunday’s performance was divided into scenes in the printed program. The choir itself was quite impressive, singing with a lovely blend and verve. Burdick not only shaped the phrases for the choir, but was magnificent in his gestures, very precisely conducting the same nuance to the ensemble that he wanted from the choir. For that reason, the performance never appeared to be instrumentalists accompanying singers. In fact, the artists achieved a sense of true ensemble, one with each other and the music.  Bass Doug Youcum sang with impressive command and vocal color in his arias. Countertenor Chris Dudley gave a thrilling interpretation of “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion.” Dudley was a good steward of stylistic performance practice, dispatching a series of impressive ornaments in the aria. Soprano Katelyn Aungst beautifully floated her lines in the recitatives and arias, leading up to the choir’s majestic “Glory to God.” In “Rejoice, Greatly” Ms. Aungst executed the runs with great exuberance. Kristin Dubenion-Smith sang a moving “He was Despised.” that so effectively transported the listener to the foot of the cross. Her compelling rendering was a reminder for many that He was born to die.  “He Shall Feed His Flock” and “Come Unto Him” are perhaps two of the most moving solos in the work. On the last phrase, “and he shall find rest.” soprano Robin Smith gently glided into the heavens, as if it were an announcement from the angelic hosts.  The choir never failed to impressive. Just when it was thought that the same old interpretation of the choruses would be heard, a fresh nuance was pointed out.  At the end of “His Yoke is Easy” there was a noticeable ritard on the ending phrase “his burthen is light.” The effect was gave such a fresh dimension not only to the music, but so effectively presented an almost visual picture of the text’s intent.  Well thought out performances of this work, like this presentation by the Choir of Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes is what the community needs to keep the freshness and vitality of Handel’s Messiah alive and vibrant.

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