Saturday 2 January 2010

Review of New Year's eve concert at the Wigmore Hall

For their New Years eve concert at the Wigmore Hall, Florilegium joined forces with Dame Emma Kirkby to put together a programme devoted to the music of Handel and Purcell. Florilegium opened with Handel's Concerto Grosso Opus 3, No. 3 in the alternative version for flute rather than oboe. I must confess that I missed the oboe's edgier tone in the texture but the group gave the piece a lively and attractive performance. A greater issue was the use of double bass on the bass line, which with such a small group of players seemed to give the piece an overly dark sound.

This was followed by Handel's cantata Tra le fiamme with Emma Kirkby. Accompanied by such a small instrumental group (just 1 instrument to a part) gave the piece an intimate chamber feel, very much like that of the early performances in the Palazzi in Rome I would suspect.

There then followed Handel's Concerto a Quattro, which was described as an expansion of Handel's Trio Sonata in D minor to include a substantial cello part for Count Rudolf Franz Erwin, a passionate cellist. Though there seems to be no mention of the work, or Count Erwin, in the new Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia. Still, it was a charming piece with a showy cello part.

The first half finished with Sweet Bird from L'Allegro, where Emma Kirkby duetted with Ashley Solomon's recorder. In both her vocal contributions Emma Kirkby's voice was perhaps not quite as flexible as it was, but this was balanced by a new depth both to her vocal colouring and to her interpretations. The problem with hearing older performers is that you have to banish their younger selves from your ears, it is a problem of longevity. And Kirkby is still one of the finest Handelian sopranos around, she understands that there is no need for volume and knows how to make each not count musically. Also, her stage manner is as charming and welcoming as ever.

The second half was devoted to Purcell. Suites from The Fairy Queen opened and closed, and in between we had Music for a While, Sweeter than Roses, The Plaint (from The Fairy Queen) and An Evening Hymn, plus a selection of Chaconnes from the ensemble. Kirkby was heartbreakingly beautiful and moving in the Purcell songs and the ensemble made an involving and lively contribution. All in all a wonderful evening. The encore was an aria from Solomon, given in what was effectively an chamber reduction, but marvellous.

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