In the few short years of its existence, the early-music organization Pacific MusicWorks has already achieved remarkable success. This season, the group and its founder/director, Stephen Stubbs, are in residence at the University of Washington, where they’ll stage a professional production of Handel’s opera “Semele” next spring. And a collaboration with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra will result in a Passions Project next March, when Pacific MusicWorks will present Bach’s St. John Passion in conjunction with the Symphony’s production of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Stubbs and his Pacific MusicWorks launched this eventful season on Friday evening in a new-to-them venue, the Seattle First Baptist Church on Capitol Hill. It proved a good place to present an intimate and ambitious program called “Welcome to All the Pleasures”, devoted to English music extending from Dowland and Purcell to Handel and Britten.
Acoustically warm and fairly resonant, the rotundalike sanctuary at First Baptist also is ringed by a balcony (closed for this concert) where the sound may well be even better. The forces assembled for the Pacific MusicWorks program were not large: Stubbs on the lute and guitar, Maxine Eilander on baroque harp, a quintet of singers, and four string players. The resulting sound had both vigor and transparency, offering a smoothly professional and nicely varied vocal and instrumental concert that also was highly engaging.
The first half was devoted to Purcell and Dowland, particularly the former’s music for the royal courts of England’s Charles II and James II. Selections from Handel’s delicious “Acis and Galatea” were succeeded by two simple 20th-century Britten folksong settings, closing with Purcell’s virtuosic “Why are all the Muses mute?”
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Stubbs provided minimalist leadership from the lute or guitar; the instrumental ensemble accompanied the singers with tremendous energy and agility. The players were violinists Tekla Cunningham and Linda Melsted, violist Elly Winer, and cellist Bill Skeen, with harpist Eilander.
The five singers were well-schooled performers of considerable versatility and agility. Pure-voiced sopranos Teresa Wakim and Clara Rottsolk sang with expressive finesse; mezzo-soprano Danielle Reutter-Harrah’s smoothly mellow voice coped well with a wide compass and several notes that were down in contralto territory. The tenor (Aaron Sheehan) and bass-baritone (Douglas Williams) were both first-rate singers who conveyed both the text and the musical lines with great artistry.
There were so many high points that it’d be hard to single out an isolated example. But one of the most moving and effective pieces on the program, unquestionably, was the closer for the first half, Purcell’s song “Hush no more.” The great word painting of the simple lyrics, the artful pauses that followed the term “hush,” all contributed to a spellbinding performance.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.