Thursday 15 September 2016

Purcell and Teleman: two Don Quixotes from the English Concert

Harry Bicket and the English Concert
Harry Bicket and the English Concert
Purcell, Telemann Don Quixote; Anna Devin, Matthew Brook, Danann McAleer, The English Concert, Harry Bicket; the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 14 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Two charmingly different musical takes on the Don Quixote story

Cervantes' Don Quixote (currently celebrating the 400th anniversary of the author's death) has inspired a variety of musical incarnations, and at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 14 September 2016, Harry Bicket and the English Concert explored music by Purcell and by Telemann inspired by Cervantes' character. We heard music from Purcell's incidental music to Tom Durfey's play based on the novel, with soprano Anna Devin and bass-baritone Matthew Brook, plus Purcell's music from The Married Beau and the orchestra was joined by actor Danann McAleer for Telemann's suite Don Quixote Suite.

Neither Purcell's music for Tom Durfey's dramatisation of Don Quixote nor his music for The Married Beau survives complete, we have to rely on collections produced after Purcell's death. As both plays date from 1694, the English Concert created a suite by interpolating the surviving vocal numbers from Don Quixote into the instrumental numbers from The Married Beau. The result was an entertaining and lively sequence, full of the variety and character that we expect from Purcell's theatre music.

After a rather grand French Overture and a vigorous Hornpipe, Matthew Brook gave us a characterful and delightfully swaggering rogue in When the World first knew creation. A lively Aire and another Hornpipe were followed by Brook's performance of Let the Dreadful Engines, a song in which the singer mistakenly believes his love has rejected him. The result was a highly dramatic sequence, full of free arioso with some lovely bravura moments, as well as charm and quiet passion. Brook really brought out the words, and turned the piece into a real tour de force. A graceful Slow Aire led to Anna Devin's solo From Rosy Bowers (which may, or may not, be the last piece Purcell wrote). The singer is pretending to be mad, so we get an alternation between lyric arioso and perkily saucy moments. Devin captured the changes of mood well, but her diction was not as clear as Brooks', A lively Jigg and a bouncy Trumpet Air led to the comic duet, Since Times are so bad, with both singers bringing out the characterful comedy. The suite finished with an appealing hornpipe, this time imaginatively constructed on a ground bass.

Telemanns's Don Quixote Suite (Le Burlesque de Quichotte) was  programmatic suite published when the composer was in his 80th year. It was his second go at the subject, the first was a short comic opera, whereas this suite was a sequence of descriptive movements. In order to bring out the story more, Danann McAleer read extracts of Cervantes' novel between the movements, making a delightful storytelling whole.

Another grand overture, this time French style with dotted rhythms, led to the rocking of Le Reveil de Quichotte, gentle yet characterful. Son attaque sure les moulins a vent was a terrific movement, full of furious energy as the Don attacked the windmills. Les soupirs amoureux apres la Princesse Dulcinee was gentle and poignant, with the latter part of the piece used rather effectively for melodrama. Sanche Panse berne was full of lovely descriptive passages as Sancho Panza is tossed in a blanket. Le galope de Rosinante e celui d'ane de Sanche was lively country dance with a section for four solo strings which was full of uneven rhythms. The suite finished with the lively Le couche de Quichotte, indicating that the Don had not done dreaming of adventures. McAleer gave us a highly characterful potted narrative, which brought out the salient moments and he did so with a dry wit and sense of storytelling, thus making the whole a highly attractive package.

Harry Bicket directed from the harpsichord with his usual aplomb, and the orchestra gave us a delightful series of character moments as they explore the sheer variety of music on offer from the two composers.

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