Reviewed by Marcia Gronewold Sly
Special to The Ellsworth American
ORONO — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra continued its digital Masterworks season with “Lyrical Wonders” last Friday.
Instead of a large orchestra and chorus filling the Collins Center for the Arts’ stage, a trio of vocal soloists joined a small ensemble — string quartet plus double bass, winds, French horn, harp and piano — and played opera, oratorio and art song with BSO Music Director Lucas Richman conducting.
COVID-19 protective measures were evident: Maestro Richman and the strings were masked and distanced while the wind players and singers were shielded by plexiglass surrounds. After months of seeing singers in little boxes on the screen, or masked, or entirely absent, it was a treat to see soprano Jamilyn Manning-White, mezzo Kate Maroney and tenor Dominic Armstrong free to fully express the music and texts. When onstage together, however, the singers seemed to be separated even more than required, which hampered their ability to interact dramatically.
Friday’s program opened with an instrumental piece, “Arioso,” the sinfonia from Bach’s Cantata 156, as arranged by Richman. The oboe solo (shared with first violinist Angel Hernandez) was serenely rendered by Benjamin Fox. Mo Nichols on harp enhanced the delicate string accompaniment. Later in the program, the brass and winds joined the strings for the intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” the only other instrumental work on the program.
In the pre-concert talk (also available online, and highly recommended), Manning-White said that she had long wished to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” not having been allowed to include it in a student recital because it had no text. She made the most of her chance to sing it with the BSO, spinning out insanely long phrases with beautifully ringing tone throughout.
Maroney shone in the aria “Erbarme dich” from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” joined by Hernandez playing the elaborate violin obbligato. This quietly moving aria, written in 12/8 meter, might have had more of a sense of urgent despair had it been conducted more clearly as four beats per measure.
The mezzo soprano’s versatility was demonstrated as she assumed the title role in the Act II duet from Bizet’s “Carmen,” taunting Armstrong’s Don José while accompanying herself on castanets. Armstrong sang the aria “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” with passionate intensity, deftly handling the pianissimo approach to the high B-flat in the penultimate phrase.
Armstrong was equally in his element in selections from Howard Blake’s set of Shakespeare songs, sung as a birthday gift to his mother, a teacher of Shakespeare, and in commemoration of World Shakespeare Day.
What would a program of arias and ensembles be without the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s “Lakmé”? Manning-White and Maroney’s lovely performance would have been enhanced by memorization. Armstrong and Manning-White were more convincing in the duet “Parigi, o cara,” from Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
The concert ended with two trios, “Susanna, or via sortite!” from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” (an odd choice, given that both Maroney and Armstrong were singing roles from outside their voice types) and “To part is such sweet sorrow” from Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus.” Finally, the singers overcame the distancing, singing with playful animation.
“Lyrical Wonders” will be available for 30 days for a modest ticket price at watch.bangorsymphony.org.