Bach Aria Soloists Charm in “Handel in Love”

Bach Aria Soloists and special guests after a triumphant “Handel in Love” performances. (Credit: MacKenzie Reed, Bach Aria Soloists)

To make a charm bracelet, bejeweled tokens are added to a chain. Each special and meaningful, the tokens represent different passions, interests, and stages in life. Worn together, they are a glittering assemblage that combines beauty, history, and personality. 

That was what Bach Aria Soloists gifted the audience at their “Handel in Love” concert on Saturday evening: a charming and intricately linked jewel of a program. 

The concert was curated by soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson. “Don’t feel the need to be uptight and stuffy,” she assured the audience in Westport Presbyterian Church. “The singer is in charge now.” 

It’s rare that the Bach Aria Soloists perform concerts without a hint of Johann Sebastian Bach in them, but in this case, an exception was made. Though Handel and Bach never met, despite being contemporaries, Bach was nevertheless an admirer of Georg Frideric Handel’s music: “[Handel] is…the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach.”

After the stately and nimble Overture to Giulio Cesare (which we got to hear twice, as there was a technical glitch the first time), Tannehill Anderson, wearing a ruby red gown, outlined the evening’s concept: a taste of Handel opera, to showcase what the “best parts of a Handel opera can be…and leave out the rest.” (She mentioned that a typical Handel opera lasts three to four hours. This performance came in at a taut 75 minutes.) In her sunny way, she gave a few notes about form, explaining expectations for traditional Baroque arias, but encouraged the audience to “follow the drama.” 

L-R Elizabeth Suh Lane and Holly Piccoli, violins; Elisa Williams Bickers, harpsichord; Hannah Collins, cello; Sarah Tannehill Anderson, soprano. (Credit: MacKenzie Reed, Bach Aria Soloist)

Pulling from Handel’s operatic oeuvre, Tannehill Anderson concocted a love story between soprano and tenor using favorite arias from Agrippina, Rodelinda, Alcina, Ariodante, and more. 

Bach Aria Soloists includes Tannehill Anderson, Elizabeth Suh Lane, violin, founder, and artistic-executive director, Hannah Collins, cello, and Elisa Williams Bickers, keyboards. They were joined by guest artists husband-and-wife tenor Kyle Stegall and violinist Holly Piccoli. 

As an operative love story, it began, of course, with longing and lament. Stegall started off the vocal selections with a gentle, sighing “Vi sento, si, remorse,” followed by Tannehill Anderson on “Pensieri,” from Agrippina. The work’s angsty introduction demonstrated the character’s conflicting emotions, violin echoing the vocal line. Tannehill Anderson has a great understanding of space and was able to let her voice linger in the air with beguiling effect. 

They moved quickly through the program, with no applause between works, trading arias. Stegall gave a fiery performance on “Tuo drudo e mio rivale” (at the end, someone in the audience let out an involuntary “whew”) and let loose into that grand tenor moment of “Tra sospetti, affetti e timori.” 

Bickers moved from harpsichord to organ for the instrumental feature on the Act III Sinfonia from Alcina, the violins trading runs in a brief but effective interlude. 

She stayed on organ for “Laschia ch’io pianga,” performed by Tannehill Anderson with an air of pride and heartbreak. This is one of the best known Handel arias and the seemingly simple melody has continued to enchant us. This was an engaging arrangement, cello supporting the voice, violins somber and steady.

They followed that up with a sprightly, ornamented “Tornami a vagheggiar” (Bickers back at the harpsichord helm) and then a drastic mood change in “Del mio sol vezzosi rai,” Stegall expressing anguish in the lament, lingering on “senze voi” (“without you”). 

“Bel piacere” was particularly fine, lovely and robust, Tannehill Anderson and violins synced in their ornaments.

The performance ended with two duos. Tannehill Anderson did a nice bit of subtle acting in the recitative from Ariodante, a little flirty. “Dite spera, e son contento” contrasted the soprano and violins against the tenor, cello and harpsichord, sweetly underscoring the characters’ newly arrived at bliss. A triumphant “Tra amplessi innocenti” was a joyous conclusion, Tannehill Anderson having the time of her life as she smiled her way through intricate runs with Stegall and strings. 

Though they performed for a decently sized crowd filling the sanctuary of Westport Presbyterian Church, Bach Aria Soloists retained that intimate chamber music quality with this tasteful and cheering program. 

Reviewed Saturday, April 22, 2023. For more information about Bach Aria Soloists and their upcoming performance at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on June 9, visit bachariasoloists.com

Correction: an earlier version of this review stated there was an issue with the recording, but that was not the case.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

  1. Ian Corbett says:

    Hi Libby! Nice review 🙂 but one point needs correcting… I’m not sure what you mean about the overture “didn’t get recorded the first time”. I was the (audio) recording engineer. It was ALL recorded, so that statement is not correct. Could you please clarify/correct that statement in your review, so it does not misrepresent services provided? Thank you!

Leave a Reply