Soprano Broadbent brings “celestial sound” to Bach Consort opener

Mon Sep 17, 2018 at 11:56 am

Amy Nicole Broadbent performed in the season-opening concert of the Washington Bach Consort.

Given the range of contributions the late J. Reilly Lewis made to musical life in Washington, it is taking at least three musicians to replace him. One of those successors, conductor Dana Marsh, stepped into the largest of shoes on Sunday afternoon, as he took the reins of the Reilly-founded Washington Bach Consort in a concert at National Presbyterian Church.

Lewis sometimes referred to the Consort as his sports car, smaller than the luxury sedan of the Cathedral Choral Society but also faster and with better corners. Marsh showed the same strengths and weaknesses at the wheel this time as he did during his audition concert last year. The chorus was with him in most cases, but his beat appeared to confuse the instrumentalists at times, creating moments of discoordination in all three works performed.

Bach’s Cantata No. 190, Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, set the tone of a new era beginning, with its texts appropriate to New Year’s Day. The work is a relative rarity, existing in a partial form that has been reconstructed by scholars. The cantata was principally a showcase for the chorus, which especially relished Bach’s interweaving of the Lutheran version of the Te Deum laudamus chant, with its aura of solemn celebration.

All of the soloists—countertenor Roger O. Isaacs, tenor Kyle Tomlin, and baritone Steven Combs—made solid contributions without displaying any distinctive beauty of sound. The instrumental introduction to the first movement laid bare some of the conflicts within the orchestra, as a clear sense of rhythmic unity took some time to be established. Fanfares of three trumpets and timpani punctuated each phrase of the closing chorale movement with regal sound.

The highlight of the concert came with the most substantial work, Handel’s magnificent Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. This mini-oratorio, set to evocative poetry by John Dryden, afforded Handel many opportunities for delightful text painting, to accompany allusions to various instruments or musical ideas. In the first chorus, for example, each section of the choir ran up and down a scalar figure at the words “Through all the compass of the notes it ran,” and the lower parts held a low pedal note as they sang, “The diapason closing full in man.”

Amy Nicole Broadbent stared down the daunting opening line of the piece’s first soprano aria, “What passion cannot Music raise and quell?,” with its precipitous high G and A. Singing with consummate poise, limpid clarity, and faultless intonation, she took off where the dreamy introduction from cellist Doug Poplin left off. When sung like this, placid and centered in a gently undulating tempo, the Ode is a showstopper.

No less impressive and in a similar vein was Broadbent’s duet with Colin St-Martin on the dulcet traverso in “The soft complaining Flute.” Slight strain appeared in Broadbent’s last two soprano arias, especially “But bright Cecilia,” where a voice with more power would excel, but all in all this was a performance to be treasured. No one could have envied tenor Kyle Tomlin having to follow such an act, but he provided at least some heroic heft in the other arias.

The program could have done without the most familiar piece on it, Bach’s evergreen Magnificat, squeezed in after an all-too-brief intermission. Broadbent again took top honors in her solo contribution here, the aria “Quia respexit,” accompanied by plaintive oboe d’amore. Baritone Steven Combs was more effective in the “Quia fecit mihi magna” movement, where organist John Walthausen provided some diverting realization of the continuo part.

A particularly moving moment came in the terzetto “Suscepit Israel,” where Marsh had the entire first soprano, second soprano, and alto sections sing instead of soloists. That choice fixed some of the balance problems, putting into relief the outstanding beauty of the group’s treble voices.

One Response to “Soprano Broadbent brings “celestial sound” to Bach Consort opener”

  1. Posted Sep 17, 2018 at 3:20 pm by Elizabeth Daniels

    Thank you for this discerning review. It is strange that you thought there was a disconnect between Dr. Marsh and the orchestra at times – the “buzz” from the instrumentalists was that he was incredibly precise and easy to follow and they immensely enjoyed his conducting energy (which is not flamboyant but rather like a tornado in a bottle…)..they felt they played better than they ever had. Lovely, that you highlighted Amy – she is a hard worker – the voice is coming into it’s own. She’s due for a lesson in 10 minutes – and had sent me your review – thrilled, of course. So, thank you!

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