Sunday 11 December 2005

Emmannuelle Haim at the Barbican

I am unsure what the exact programme was supposed to be for Saturday’s concert by Le Concert d’Astree, conducted by Emmanuelle Haim, but the printed programme came with a note saying the programme had been changed. So we expected Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, the Oboe d’Amore concerto (reconstructed from the later Harpsichord concerto which was based on it), 2 arias from the Mass in B Minor sung by Alice Coote and a cantata sung by Barbara Bonney. In the event conductor Emmanuelle Haim had injured her arm and the 1st half was reduced. Each singer sang only 1 aria, but the concertos were left untouched. I suspect that the many admirers of Alice Coote and Barbara Bonney in the audience would rather have lost the concertos and kept the vocal contributions.

The double violin concerto was played by the leaders of the 1st and 2nd violins. Haim’s tempi in the outer movements were swift and the violins favoured articulation over line so that there were times when the solo parts sounded preciously like pecking. I longed for a little more space and sense of pure line. Though the performance was creditable it seemed to trivialise the work somehow. The oboist played his concerto confidently and fluently, producing a lovely deep modulated sound. But it was only in the slower middle movement that he had time to pause, dwell and consider; in the outer movements things seemed to just dash past. The singers’ two arias were moving, leaving me longing for more.

After the interval the 2 singers blended beautifully in the duets in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. But somehow I wanted more. The text is so over-wrought that Pergolesi’s lovely melodies can easily seem to skate over the subject matter. Singers and Ensemble, particularly the ensemble, needed to find more depth, more suffering in the work.

One curiosity is that Bach produced a version of the work adapted to fit Psalm 51 with a more elaborate accompaniment (a fully independent viola part, for instance). Given the Bachian nature of the programme it would have been interesting to hear it. But perhaps the work would not have had such cachet with the paying public.

The hall was full and the theatre was busy with its Xmas show, Tintin, so that the facilities were stretched to breaking point.

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