Dorothee Mields, soprano, Janet See, baroque flute, Marc Destrube, violin, Joanna Blendulf, cello, Christopher Bagan, harpsichord, Works by Handel and Triemer, Vancouver Playhouse, February 15, 2014.



Anyone familiar with soprano Dorothee Mields’ radiant Bach oratorio collaborations with Phillipe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Ghent knows of this singer’s strong interpretative sense and her beautifully luminous voice, full of tender expressiveness.  Handel’s ‘Nine German Arias’ performed at this concert are naturally smaller in scale.  They are in fact one of the few works that the composer set to German and have simple naturalistic texts that allow for both intimacy and expression.  While there are a number of possible instrumentations, here a quartet of baroque flute, violin, cello and harpsichord was chosen.  This ensemble also contributed on its own a Trio Sonata by Handel, and a Cello Sonata by the little known Johann Triemer (1700-1761).

As we saw in the opening three songs, Dorothee Mields’ vocal command is quite remarkable.  She knows how to pace an aria so that it operates in long paragraphs, yet she is so expert in shaping and varying phrases that she can add many imaginative and telling nuances from moment to moment.  Dynamics and texture can be varied considerably – especially in her middle to top register -- yet continuity is never sacrificed.  In the first song ‘Vain cares’, we saw her ability to make phrases rise and fall in a most natural way while in the third ‘In the pleasant bushes’, it was her subtle control of texture that stood out, breaking out into sunshine at just the right point.

If anything, the next four songs were even finer, having somewhat greater interpretative freedom.  In ‘Sweet quiet’, we saw wonderfully innocent expression with tender, long phrases and in ‘Sing, o soul’, the singer’s ability to build the line of the song to a fully dramatic output, quickly but fluently expanding to high notes to reinforce feeling.  ‘Ambrosial petals’ developed a more smooth and cultivated demeanour with enviable structural control while ‘The flickering shimmer’ brought a delightfully relaxed posture with easeful and playful motion.  There was certainly a radiant scent in ‘Flaming rose’ but here I thought the concentration was slightly less in evidence as we progressed.  And, for all of the delightful imitative passages for violin and voice, the final ‘My soul in hearing sees’ could have had more point and depth.

Combined with alert and conscientious ensemble playing, this was a most rewarding experience overall. There clearly are few better in the 17th and 18th C. repertoire than Dorothee Mields.  As far as period performances of the Handel ‘Arias’ go, this one occupied sort of a middle position.  There was not as much flexibility or ornamentation in the ensemble’s contribution as in some interpretations, and the ensemble consciously avoided any excesses of charm or dramatic flourish.  In the obbligato parts, Janet See’s sensitive flute playing always stood out but I think there could have been more variation in phrase lengths in Marc Destrube’s violin.  Here an occasional slight broadening or bending of phrase would have given us a richer feel.

The two instrumental works interspersed with the songs were satisfying.  Triemer’s quite obscure Cello Sonata is a work I would hear again.  For my taste, Joanna Blendulf’s interpretation was possibly smoother than it might be; I felt the need to ‘dig in’ with additional sforzando emphasis at points. I also note that the first movement was simply much faster than its ‘Largo’ marking.  The Handel Trio Sonata was given very creditable treatment, Janet See’s flute adding sensitive touches, with the ‘question and answer’ of the final Allegro realized particularly well.


© Geoffrey Newman 2014. 


Dorothee Mields sings Bach