Battle and Company in Fine Form in Costa Mesa


Musical veterans with clear perspectives and matching aesthetics, soprano Kathleen Battle and harpsichordist Anthony Newman have joined forces this season and are touring with a Baroque ensemble in a program of music from Dowland to Handel. The tour stopped in Costa Mesa, at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Sunday afternoon.

The two artists seemed in strong rapport with each other and their five colleagues, their collaboration natural and fluent. There was never any doubt that Battle, vivid in a crimson gown wrapped with a long gold stole, was the star of this show. Yet she shared the stage graciously with her enthusiastic colleagues.

The most important of these was Newman, mellower than in previous visits, who played two solo groups and conducted the sextet, and was seconded brilliantly by flutist Judith Pearce. Pearce and Battle achieved the program’s high point in Handel’s wondrous showpiece, “Sweet Bird,” near the end of the program, and elsewhere performed together effortlessly.


Indeed, the second half of the program, beginning with four Purcell songs, with Newman and cellist Charles Curtis assisting Battle, and ending with four excerpts from Handel’s “Theodora,” provided musical fireworks performed authoritatively. Separating the Purcell and Handel groups, Newman played the two outer movements of Bach’s “Italian” Concerto in a thorough but perfunctory manner.

Affectingly, Battle’s singing of the Purcell songs--”Sweeter than roses,” There’s not a swain,” “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly” and “Music for a while” delivered the silvery tone, pungent word coloration and emotional connectedness for which the soprano is justly famous. Except that she sometimes moves her arms distractingly, she is also a pleasure to watch.

The first half, offering three songs by Dowland, two harpsichord pieces by Handel, and J.S. Bach’s cantata, “Non sa che sia dolore,” was performed handsomely, if on a lower level of intensity. Assisting instrumentalists were violinists Robin Bushman and Elizabeth Chang and violist Nardo Poy.

Adding to the afternoon’s pleasures were Kathy Henkel’s informative, literate program annotations.