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Friday, June 14, 2024

Raise, raise the voice raises the roof

A multiple Grammy nominee, countertenor Reginald Mobley is a consummate performer with an easy charm connecting him with his audience. 

A multiple Grammy nominee, countertenor Reginald Mobley is a consummate performer with an easy charm connecting him with his audience.

The title of his well-balanced, extensive program, Raise, raise the voice, is taken from Henry Purcell’s symphony of the same name. The February 3rd concert opened with O Solitude, a part of that symphony composed by Purcell in c.1685. It ended with In My Solitude, written by Duke Ellington in 1945. The first ode to solitude is joyful, and the second, melancholy.

Mobley says he likes to bookend his programs with those two pieces and then flesh out a storyline between them, using music from disparate sources. It’s as if the bookends are the epidermis surrounding the muscle and bone of a tale that’s in parts universal, personal or socially relevant.

This concert included works from 17th-century icons such as Bach and Handel and stretched to accommodate an 18th-century anonymous Dutchman whose exquisite Amo te, Jesu plus guam me (I love you, Jesus, more than myself). It was a highlight, interpreted by Mobley with delicate precision and pure emotion. There were also delightful minuets and country dances by Ignatius Sancho, an orphaned, two-year-old enslaved boy brought to England in 1731, who gained his freedom and became a respected man of letters, an abolitionist and a composer.

Like Sancho, Mobley embraces his colour. Wearing a T-shirt saying, “I love being black,” he says his activism is who he is. So is his voice, from the countertenor notes, octaves above middle C, to the baritone ones far below it.

He is supported by six members of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, led by Alexander Weimann from his seats at the harpsichord and continuo organ. Their interaction is relaxed and empathetic, reflecting their long-time friendship. Weimann says no two Mobley concerts are ever the same. His skill at following his cohort’s improvised interpretations makes him a powerful ally. The two agree that Baroque and jazz are closely related because they both celebrate improv.

They also agree that text is paramount, and if anyone can interpret text honestly with depth, integrity and clarity, it’s Reginald Mobley.

If any orchestra playing Baroque instruments, such as theorbo and viola da gamba alongside the modern cello and violin, can blend musical styles seamlessly, it’s Pacific Baroque. Their interpretation of Purcell’s Fantasia 7 in G major at one minute and the middle eight of Ellington’s In My Solitude at another illustrates their versatility.

Produced by Early Music Vancouver, this evening of beautiful music and song truly celebrated February as the month of Black History and love. And when Mobley sang the final note, the audience, with one voice, raised the roof.

Early Music Vancouver will present Raise, raise the voice as part of its Digital Concert Hall beginning on March 24. Visit earlymusic.bc.ca for more information.

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