REVIEW: Baroque Orchestra – A magical performance

Bloomington Herald Times | By Peter Jacobi H-T reviewer | 

It was one of those unexpected moments.

It came in the middle of Wednesday evening’s performance by the Indiana University Baroque Orchestra of 17th century music. As the players switched positions to perform selections from 17th century Italian composer Luigi Rossi’s opera “L’Orfeo,” a diminutive figure diffidently entered the stage, as if seeking to avoid being noticed. He took a seat, folded his hands on lap, and waited.

Through two selections, a Passacaille and a Corrente, he waited, motionlessly. And then he stood, Elijah McCormack stood, and plaintively raised his voice: countertenor you might call it, soprano he prefers to call it. “Lasciate Averno, o pene, e me, e me seguite,” McCormack sang. “Leave Hell, O pains, and follow me!”

Orfeo has lost his beloved Euridice and laments. Young Elijah McCormack sang in Italian that rolled off his tongue, in language that bled from the heart. His voice, his manner, his being turned into the disconsolate youth weeping for the return of his beloved.

The performance proved magical, one of those rare times when a musical experience takes breath and all externals away. “But why delay dying,” came the message, “if death, by happy chance, can bring me back to the lovely cause of my suffering? To die! To die!”

In a hush, the music ended. McCormack stood motionless, his face almost expressionless, but somehow grieving, too.

Then, the silence was broken by a hesitant smattering of applause. The applause grew. And grew. Cheers punctured the applause. In tandem, applause and cheers continued. Finally, timidly, the soloist bowed as his face broke slowly into a smile.

Just that one aria would have made the evening. However, the Baroque Orchestra provided a full hour of period goodies under the label, “A Program of Seventeenth Century Song and Dance.” One heard fine readings of four other works of the period.

With glowing trumpets, orchestra members Jens Jacobsen and Julia Bell added bright and brilliant sounds to the Serenada in C for Trumpets, Strings and Continuo by the Moravian composer and trumpeter Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky. The German composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s “Mensa Sonora, Pars III,” proved to be a series of lovely and lively dances, well played, as was the French-born/German Georg Muffat’s Concerto Number 4, “Dulce somnium,” enriched by solo violinists Sarah Cranor and Micah Fleming, along with cellist Kevin Flynn.

Wednesday’s program ended on an Italian note: Arcangelo Corelli’s joyful Concerto grosso in F Major, Opus 6, Number 6, thrillingly enlivened by another pair of violinists from the ensemble, Clara Scholtes and Emily Leung.

One wondered throughout the concert: Where was Stanley Ritchie, listed as the program’s director? The orchestra had been led by members from within its ranks, most prominently violinist Sarah Cranor. And all had gone swimmingly. Yet, was the eminent Professor Ritchie missing?

He wasn’t. When, during the final round of applause for the night’s program, violinist Scholtes pointed toward the balcony at Auer Hall’s rear, a figure appeared. It was director Ritchie. He had been there all along and, at that moment, stood up to accept deserved praise for his preparation of this excellent Baroque Orchestra program.

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