Tuesday 18 December 2007

Review of Last night's Barbican Concert

Emmanuelle Haim and Les Concerts d’Astree have a new CD to promote so they are doing a tour, performing the repertoire on the CD. They arrived at the Barbican Centre yesterday to perform Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Magnificat (the 2nd, D major version).

This is all well and good. After all, any concert directed by Haim is never less than interesting and with her own group there is the good possibility that sparks will fly. Add to this the temptation of hearing Natalie Dessay singing the Soprano 1 solos and you had a delectable package; even though the total amount of music being performed totalled around 65 minutes.

I know that one should count quality not quantity, but even so the concert seemed a little under nourished as regards content. Surely the group could have added another overture or two, just to make the proceeding seem less like an exact re-run of the CD.

Though as regards cast, this was not a re-run of the CD. Only Dessay was common to CD and concert and she dropped out due to ill health. In fact Haim managed to lose both her 1st soprano and her tenor, but replaced them admirably with Amy Freston and Paul Agnew.

In fact, when you look at the solo roles in the two works, having such a stellar cast seemed rather over the top. In Handel’s Dixit Dominus the soloists have a tendency to interject into the choral textures. Handel uses a 5-part choir and the 5 solo roles match this. So much so that you can’t help feeling that he intended to have the solos sung by the choir leaders.

If this had happened it would have removed the rather annoying amount of walking about that the soloists had to do, getting up to sing a small interjection and then sitting down again.

That said the performance was certainly up to standard. Haim used a large-ish choir (25 strong); both they and the instrumental ensemble gave a good crisp performance. Haim seems to aim for dramatic textures when it comes to her choruses, no pale English reticence here. This means that some sophistication of texture and line is lost but the result is undeniably vivid and exciting. The soloists (Amy Freston, Salome Haller, Tim Mead, Paul Agner and Robert Gleadow) followed suit and contributed some fine, involving solo singing.

After the interval the band grew bigger as Bach adds wind and brass to Handel’s string band. Also he allots each soloist an aria apiece so that all the singers get the chance to show off properly. As they did, in fine style; Amy Freston was beautifully accompanied in her first aria by the oboe do’amore of Patrick Beaugiraud. Another highlight for me was the duetting of Tim Mead and Paul Agnew in Et misericorida.

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