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Posted on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 : 12:48 a.m.

Apollo's Fire, Philippe Jaroussky enchant at Hill Auditorium

By Susan Isaacs Nisbett


Philippe Jaroussky

When a singer arrives to present an evening of arias, the accompanying orchestral ensemble can sometimes function as a sort of relief pitcher, playing on its own while the singer takes a break off stage.

But the American baroque ensemble Apollo’s Fire, arriving in town to accompany the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky at Hill Auditorium last night, in a concert presented by the University Musical Society, proved every bit as alluring as the singer himself.

It turned out there were as many “Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks,” as the concert was billed, in the instrumental music as there were in the vocal selections.

In fact, it could be argued that one of those instrumental selections, Vivaldi’s “La Follia,” was an evening high point. Apollo’s Fire Music Director Jeannette Sorrell had arranged it for the entire band - as a sort of jam session, as she put it - from Vivaldi’s trio sonata of that title. With Sorrell leading from the harpsichord, as she did most of the evening, the ensemble played these variations, based on a “Renaissance pop tune,” with brio and style and more than a hint of the madness the title implies. It was delicious.

Throughout the evening, Sorrell was a fine host, stepping forward from time to time to introduce selections or situate them in context. She was also a fine director. In the orchestra’s first selection, another Sorrell-Vivaldi arrangement, the players seemed a little lethargic in catching up with the tempo changes she indicated. But it was precisely the plasticity of the group’s music making throughout the evening, along with its dynamic and coloristic sensitivity, that gave its Handel and Vivaldi so much character.

Jaroussky was a soulmate in many ways. By and large, vocal color was not the point of his singing in this repertoire, but if pure, angelic sound was your thing—or high-flying coloratura—then Jaroussky was your man. He showed he had the goods in his opening number, Handel’s “Agitato da fiere tempeste,” from the opera “Oreste,” taking its note-filled rollercoaster ride at speeds that would make the Cyclone look tame.

I think it’s possible to wish for more of a line in some of his coloratura, to go along with its accuracy and agility, but there is little to wish for in the way of improvement in his lyrical singing. In his Handel “Ho perso il caro ben,” he showed how he could be tender and intimate with his sound, making Hill Auditorium seems small. He floated the high notes in Vivaldi’s “Se mai senti spirati sul volto,” and his final encore, Handel’s “Ombra mai fu,” from the opera “Serse,” was a thing of beauty.

His first two encores were, respectively, Porpora’s “Alto giove” from “Polifemo” and Handel’s “Venti turbini” from “Rinaldo.”


Scott Girgash

Sat, Nov 5, 2011 : 3:26 a.m.

I travelled from Cleveland (hometown of Apollo's Fire, which, alas, is not touring with Philippe to our city) to hear this wonderful concert. I was enthralled with every note of Mr. Jaroussky's performance. He is, by and large, a shining star on the international opera scene, and deservedly so. I met him after the show for photos & autographs, and he is every bit as warm and endearing in person as his singing. Apollo's Fire certainly provided a spectacular accompaniment to Mr. Jaroussky's performance, and shined on their own in several pieces, most notably "La Follia" as mentioned above, which has become something of a theme song for this group. However, I must express consternation with the concertmaster, Olivier Brault, who styles himself an 18th century dandy and whose over-animated energy onstage detracts from the full enjoyment of the soloist. I wish Mr. Jaroussky continued success in his Boston leg of this tour and on into Europe. My ears can hardly stand the wait for his return to our soil!