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by Timothy Robson

FORSYTHE-Amanda-greenThis weekend Apollo’s Fire, directed by Jeannette Sorrell, gave four performances of their latest program, The Power of Love: Passions of Handel and Vivaldi. The featured soloist was the brilliant young soprano Amanda Forsythe. I heard the Friday night concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, with its newly renovated acoustics which livened up the sound considerably. The music was mostly Handel and Vivaldi, but Jean-Philippe Rameau made a couple of cameo appearances as well.

One of the hallmarks of Apollo’s Fire’s performances is the naturalness and freedom of their music-making. Although very carefully planned and rehearsed, the musicians always project a sense of spontaneity and improvisation. Also, Jeannette Sorrell is not afraid to make things her own, as exemplified in the program by two of her transcriptions of Vivaldi works that opened and closed the concert. The Allegro from the Concerto in D, RV511, originally for two violins, was arranged as a concerto grosso. It was stylishly done, and had the program not stated it that it was an arrangement, few would have been the wiser. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Daniel Hathaway

Michael Praetorius

Michael Praetorius

Well before the more pietistic style of Lutheran church music that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote at Leipzig in the second quarter of the eighteenth century came the Italian-influenced, Renaissance style of Michael Praetorius, the subject of Jeannette Sorrell’s well-crafted and expertly performed Christmas Vespers with Apollo’s Fire, which began a four-concert run at Trinity Cathedral on Friday evening before moving on to three different venues around town.

You could hear the difference in approach in Philip Nicolai’s Wachet auf! Everyone knows the glorious, equal-note setting that ends Bach’s cantata of the same name. Not so familiar is the early form of the chorale tune with its dancelike, uneven rhythms, nor its delightful and ornate elaboration by Praetorius from his 1619 collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix. The latter, already bursting at its seams with exuberance, was decorated even further by Apollo’s Fire’s violinists and cornetto players (Olivier Brault, Johanna Novom, Kiri Tollaksen and Nathaniel Cox), who could barely force themselves to arrive at the final chord at several cadences. Read the rest of this entry »

by Nicholas Jones

AF-Virtuoso-OrchestraAs Apollo’s Fire heads out on a real tour across North American, last weekend’s set of concerts gave us a virtual tour of some of the top orchestras across Europe—all without leaving our seats. Talk about not leaving a carbon footprint!

As simply and quickly as on Google Earth, listeners swooped from one musical capital to another — from Hamburg on the North Sea, south to Venice on the Adriatic, and across what we now used to call East Germany, from Cöthen and Leipzig to Dresden.

Each of the sojourns featured one of the composers who lived and worked in that town – Telemann in Hamburg, Vivaldi in Venice, and Bach in Leipzig and Cöthen. Dresden—one of the grandest of the orchestras and the pride of the Elector of Saxony—was represented by the little known Johann David Heinichen.

The theme, “virtuoso orchestra,” led music director Jeannette Sorrell to feature concertos in which Apollo’s Fire’s soloists could step forward and dazzle us as their counterparts 300 years ago must have done. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

SORRELL-JeannetteAfter I congratulated her on launching her ensemble’s twenty-second season, Apollo’s Fire founder and artistic director Jeannette Sorrell said, “We’re into adulthood now, and we’re in a really fantastic place regarding our artistic reputation.” Cleveland patrons don’t need to be reminded of the high quality of playing their resident baroque orchestra turns in on a regular basis, but a wider audience is now sitting up and paying attention.

One indication of Apollo’s Fire’s “grown-up” status: the ensemble has recently been picked up by Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI), “a big stamp of approval”, Sorrell said. “We’re the first period instrument orchestra to appear on their roster, and after twenty-one years of honing our craft and trying to perfect our art, it’s great to be getting global attention.”

We reached Jeannette Sorrell via Skype last weekend to chat about the multiple performances of seven programs that local audiences will enjoy in area church venues this season. It all begins with “Virtuoso Orchestra”, which opens on Thursday, October 10 at First Methodist in Akron and will be repeated on October 11 and 12 at Fairmount Presbyterian in Cleveland Heights and on October 13 at Rocky River Presbyterian.

Sorrell promises that the program will live up to its name with dazzling performances including Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins, Bach’s fourth Brandenburg Concerto and a novelty for local audiences, a concerto by J.D. Heinichen. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Michael Praetorius

Jeannette Sorrell brought the alternately dazzling and charming music of Michael Praetorius to life once again at Trinity Cathedral on Thursday evening, in her compilation program, “Christmas Vespers” — with a little help from Apollo’s Fire’s 20 instrumentalists, 27 adult singers and the 15 young vocalists who make up Apollo’s Musettes. And a near-capacity crowd of happy listeners.

Her sidespeople comprised six string players, including viola da gamba, a wind band of ten (recorders, cornetti, Trumpets, three sackbuts and percussionist) a continuo group of four (count them: three long-necked lutes or theorbos! — in addition to organ and harpsichord (Sorrell herself) and seven soloists who moved in and out of the choir during the complicated choreography that brought the right people to the right place for each variously scored piece.

Mostly drawn from the collection called Polyhymnia caduceatrix, compiled in 1619, two years before the composer’s death at the age of 50, but also using material from his Musica Sionae, Puericinium and the dance collection Terpsichore, the program ranged from the simple (chant and liturgical snippets, stark, early Lutheran chorales sung in unison and M.P.’s greatest hit, Lo, how a rose) to the fascinating polychoral complexity of works in the Venetian ceremonial style (Gloria sei Gott, and In Dulci Jubilo). Read the rest of this entry »

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