Review: Vox Reflexa a joy

Orchestra earns standing ovation; Vox Reflexa a joy

By Peter JacobiH-T Reviewer |
April 30, 2012

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The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s closing concert of the season was labeled “Finale Fantastique,” in reference to the presence on the program of the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. The label, however, could well have been applied to the way the orchestra played that work on Saturday evening at Bloomington High School North. It was praiseworthy and gained a cheers-dotted standing ovation.

Music director Charles Latshaw has done remarkable things with our community orchestra during his five years at the helm. With his own high spirits, he has instilled an esprit de corps that results in performances not only technically improved, a development to be welcomed, but artistically purposeful, more musically informed. Latshaw obviously sees his role as conductor to be the go-between who ties composer to players. And he’s managed to do that.

The Berlioz was a case in point. Not all was perfection in the reading. After all, the piece remains a challenge even for the most professional of orchestras. But what one heard was exciting. Latshaw knew what he wanted; so did the musicians. Consequently, the audience fully benefited from one of musical Romanticism’s wildest rides, a composer’s hallucinatory invasion of a woman’s life, she the actress Harriet Smithson that Berlioz saw perform Ophelia in “Hamlet,” then madly fall for without having met her. The music palpitates with passion, then weeps and screams his rejection, her murder, and retribution. The BSO caught all the action.

During the intermission that preceded the Symphonie Fantastique, Latshaw had engagingly chatted with the audience, explaining what was to happen. That made the insertion between movements of Berlioz’ own words in English translation, arguably unnecessary, even though they were read well by Erik Hitchcock, an actor and the BSO’s production manager.

More interestingly, Hitchcock contributed the “To be or not to be” monologue from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” between the two sections of Edward MacDowell’s “Hamlet and Ophelia,” an 1884 tone poem inspired by theater performances that the composer and his wife saw in London. The music is a lushly orchestrated sample of the late Romantic age. Again, the orchestra played with energy and interpretive sensitivity.

Vox Reflexa

Ben Geier, a tenor and choral conductor studying in the Jacobs School, wrote me early last week about a concert that his own choral group, Vox Reflexa, was about to present. Come on Friday to First Presbyterian, he urged, to hear the “Magnificat Em Talha Dourada” by Eurico Carrapatoso, which “has enchanted both the choir and orchestra and is not something you want to miss.”

I went. Geier was right. The music, indeed, proved enchanting. I was enthralled by it and by the performance, led ever so persuasively by Geier. The title had led me to think the piece was old. It isn’t. Carrapatoso is a Portuguese composer very much alive at age 50. He wrote the Magnificat when he was 36 on commission from a church celebrating its 500th anniversary.

The instruments used for it are period Baroque. The singing has the hold-the-vibrato ring of Early Music. One heard touches of Bach and Vivaldi but, then, also of Faure and Delius and even bits of later 20th century. All of which is not to suggest Carrapatoso has no voice of his own. He does. It’s the original way he has put the influences together. There’s great charm in the orchestration; highlights include frolicking escapades by a pair of recorder players (Mee-jung Ahn and Ellen Jameson) using the teeniest, piccolo-like recorders and up.

Geier’s chorus, Vox Reflexa, had chances to belt and to words and music extolled and jubilated God and the baby Jesus and a host of earthly and heavenly mysteries. Soprano Jessica Beebe was the primary soloist; she spared naught in thrusting the beauties of her voice into the Magnificat’s content and the church’s atmosphere. Mezzo Laura Thoreson and soprano Arwen Myers, in smaller assignments, added comely solo moments, too. The 50 minutes of music were a joy to experience. I left smiling.


Copyright: 2012

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