Monday, 6 June 2011

OAE at the South Bank

A rather late posting I'm afraid.

To the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Saturday 4th for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's glorious concert of Handel. They were directed by leader Alison Bury, and performed 3 of Handel's Concerti Grossi and joined by soprano Elin Manahan Thomas for arias from Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo and Alcina, finishing with the motet Silete Venti.

We heard two of the Opus 6 Concerti Grossi, numbers 1 and 7. Despite the presence of wind instruments in other items, these were performed in Handel's published versions without wind parts. OAE fielded quite a small band (4 first violins, 4 seconds, 3 violas, 2 cellos and 1 bass) and the performances were crisp, lively and lithe - slimline and quite dazzling, but I have to confess that despite the high level of musicality I had the odd hankering for larger scaled performances. The Opus 6 Concerti Grossi seem to have so much in them that being played by larger groups, in a slightly more stately manner, feels natural.

The final Concerto Grosso was the glorious Opus 3, number 2, one of the loveliest of Handel's Opus 3. These were assembled by Walsh, during a period when Handel's relationship with the publisher is unclear. Handel seems to have had no direct involvement, but Walsh had access to Handel's manuscripts. Number 2 is one of the few genuine concerti grossi in the group. The hauntingly beautiful slow movement, with its two intertwining cello parts was perfectly judged.

Elin Manahan Thomas has quite a slim-line voice and certainly has a way with Handelian fioriture, the speeds of the arias were impressive, at times. As such, she was perfect for Morgana's role in Alcina, and brought bright brilliance to Tornami a vagheggiar. Lascia chi'io pianga from Rinaldo was nicely done and moving, without quite plumbing the depths. Da tempesta, from Giulio Cesare was suitably bright and cheerful.

Silete Venti is unusual in being a substantial motet written in London. Technically it is a motet, being sacred, but in construction it owes much to Handel's Italian cantatas. Handel re-used material from his German Arias, Chandos Anthems and earlier motets in the new motet, and went on to re-use portions of Silete Venti in Esther. Silete Venti was written in 1724, but its origins are uncertain.

However it is a brilliant piece of writing, the opening busy string introduction being interrupted by the sopranos cry of Silete venti (Be silent you winds). It was a glorious conclusion to a fine concert.
Except, of course, it wasn't a conclusion at all and Manahan Thomas gave us Ombra mai fu as an encore!

The concert was advertised as being introduced from the stage by Clemency Burton-Hill. I must confess I was curious. In fact, it was being recorded by Radio 3 (it is to be broad cast on Sunday 19th June) and Burton-Hill was doing the Radio 3 intros from the platform. We were spared the linkages, which she did from a table behind the stage and only came across as a strange muttering as if she was doing an incantation. But we had to suffer interviews with Alison Bury and Elin Manahan-Thomas, luckily both came over as natural and informative. But I would have preferred to be left with my own thoughts.

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