by Daniel Hathaway
Les Délices lucked upon a sun-drenched, nearly balmy Sunday afternoon for its February 26 “Enchanted Island” program in Herr Chapel at Plymouth Church — weather that perfectly suited the subject but no doubt affected the turnout for soprano Sherezade Panthhaki’s impressive debut with the ensemble in solo cantatas by Clérambault and Rameau.
Although the ensemble reinvented itself to some extent to weather the pandemic, Artistic Director Debra Nagy continues to return to its original, winning format: one-hour programs of French Baroque repertoire, assiduously researched, prepared, and performed by Cleveland’s finest period instrumentalists, usually featuring guest vocalists.
On this occasion, for “Enchanted Isle” (referring to Delos, the holy sanctuary of Greek mythology), Nagy (oboe and recorder) was joined by Panthaki, violinists Julie Andrijeski and Cynthia Black, violist da gamba Rebecca Reed, and harpsichordist Mark Edwards for music by Jean-Féry Rebel (Trio Sonata No. 4 “La Junon”), and François Couperin (keyboard selections from 6ème ordre), in addition to Clérambault’s L’Isle de Délos and Rameau’s Le Berger Fidèle.
Alternating between laments and rages, Rebel’s sonata — tangentially connected to Delos — colorfully depicts the wild emotional swings the goddess Juno experiences over the infidelities of her husband, graphically expressed by the musicians.
Sherezade Panthaki made a dramatic entrance with the bucolic Clérambault cantata. She has a commanding but responsive voice over which she exerts complete control. While she could easily fill a much larger space than Herr Chapel with her gorgeous sound, she uses her voice with wonderful restraint and applies a whole range of emotional color to put the text across. This became more obvious in the Rameau, which gave her and her instrumental colleagues more varied material to work with.
Throughout the program, oboe and violins played with impeccable blend and balance. Those of us who lived through the early days of the period instrument revival can only marvel at how far instrumental expertise has progressed.
Before the Rameau, Mark Edwards played three of the more popular keyboard works from Couperin’s Sixth Suite — “Les Langueurs tendres,” “Barricades Mystérieuses,” and “Les Bergeries” — joined on the first and third pieces by Nagy, who justified her inclusion by reference to the composer’s own practice in the Concerts Royaux. That wasn’t really necessary, as Edwards plays these pieces wonderfully by himself, expertly spreading chords to make their lines sing. But who could object to hearing more from Nagy?
Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 8, 2023.
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