Much as I admire musicians, I've often been forced to complain about church organists who drown out their congregations. Anyone can hammer the walls with an organ. Great organists repress their megalomania and impress us with virtues like flair, sensitivity and their grasp of musical structure. Alan Morison fits that description.
Dolce Suono's recent program partnered the organ with various combinations of flute, soprano and cello. In every piece, Morrison kept his instrument under restrained, precisely calculated control, so that he and the other musicians created a perfectly balanced blend.
The only exception was the final bars of Marcel Dupré's Sonata for Cello and Organ. In his introductory remarks, Morrison noted that he had to execute Dupré's challenges without drowning out his partner, but he was allowed to cut loose at the very end. At that point, he said, he had told cellist Yumi Kendall, "You don't stand a chance."
Not so. As it turned out, you could still hear the cello, in its subordinate role, through most of the climax.
The afternoon's other star was the guest artist, soprano Jegyung Yang.
Mimi Stillman has displayed a talent for picking first-class colleagues ever since she inaugurated Dolce Suono in 2006. In this case, she delegated the selection process to a partner with impeccable credentials: Placido Domingo.
Dolce Suono has entered into a partnership with the Domingo-Cafrtiz Young Artist program, which offers selected young vocalists intensive study with master coaches, along with performance opportunities with the Washington National Opera and other organizations. If the soprano Jegyung Yang is a typical example of this program's selections, we can look forward to some impressive Dolce Suono debuts.
Yang opened the concert with pieces by Bach and Handel, sounding thoroughly at ease through most of her range. Her voice is still developing, so you can still hear her reaching for the highest notes. But that was a minor, barely noticeable flaw and the kind of thing that time rectifies.
The three final pieces by Bach and Mozart lay within her best range, and the Mozart ended the afternoon with one of the repertoire's most memorable moments: the brilliant string of alleluias that ends Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate.
Coffee or marriage?
Good as Yang was, Placido Domingo's young colleagues receive something from Dolce Suono, too. Stillman and Morrison placed a lovely flute and organ frame around Bach's aria Aus Liebe, from the St. Matthew Passion, and the flute added a jaunty air to the outcries of the young heroine of Bach's Coffee Cantata, who likes coffee so much that she prefers it to marriage.
The program's instrumental items included two 20th-Century pieces for flute and organ. Jehan Alain's Trois Movements for Flute and Organ featured some particularly silvery flute work, as well as several beautifully executed moments when one instrument would start a phrase and the other instrument would seamlessly complete it.
Credit for Kendall
Ernest Bloch's Suite Modale for Flute and Organ (arranged by Morrison) presented some of Stillman's best flute work on this program, a performance notable for its beautiful tone and controlled shading.
Yumi Kendall's contributions to the continuo parts deserve a mention, too. The continuo is the standard accompaniment for Baroque music. It creates much of the distinctive sound of Baroque music, and it requires a knowledge of Baroque performance practice. Philadelphia has several good continuo players, but no civilized community can harbor too many.♦
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