Tuesday 2 January 2018

New Year's Eve with Arcangelo

Emöke Baráth
Emöke Baráth
Blow, Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi; Emöke Baráth, Peter Whelan, Neil Brough, Paul Sharp, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 31 2017 Star rating: 5.0
A programme full of engaging vitality and fine music making

New Year's Eve was celebrated in style at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday 31 December 2017 when Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo gave a us an enjoyably festive evening of baroque music, full of engaging and vital music making. The programme was full of symmetries, a pair of settings of the Gloria (by Handel and by Vivaldi), two concertos by Vivaldi (for bassoon and for two trumpets), and two Odes for St Cecilia's day (Blow's Begin the Song and Purcell's Welcome to All the Pleasures). The planned soprano soloist Anna Lucia Richter was unfortunately ill, and her place was taken at very short notice by the Hungarian soprano Emöke Baráth, and Arcangelo was also joined by Peter Whelan (bassoon), Neil Brough and Paul Sharp (trumpets).

With Jonathan Cohen directing from the harpsichord and organ, there was a vocal ensemble of eight singers who also took on the solo responsibilities in the Blow and Purcell - Charlotte Beament, Zoe Brookshaw, Anna Harvey, David Allsopp, Samuel Boden, Thomas Walker, Stephen Kennedy and Dingle Yandell - plus an instrumental ensemble of five strings, led by Louis Creach, with Thomas Dunford on lute.

We started with John Blow's Begin the Song, his St Cecilia's Day ode from 1684 which featured on Arcangelo's recent disc [see my review], this showcased Samuel Boden's stlylishly melifluous haut-contre alongside Thomas Walker's virile and characterful tenor, as well as soprano Zoe Brookshaw in a striking high versus low duet with bass Dingle Yandell, and it was Yandell who got the work's most memorable number, the aria 'Music's the cordial of a troubled breast' with its spectacular wide range, showcasing Yandell's fine lower register.

Antonio Vivaldi wrote at least 39 bassoon concertos for his pupils at the Pieta orphanage, so presumably the instrument was popular with the girls there. Peter Whelan joined Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo for the Concerto in C for bassoon, strings and continuo RV473. In the opening movement the bassoon started by playing along with the bass line, but any comic sentiment was soon blown away by Whelan's deft passagework in the solo moments. The slow movement allowed the tenor register of Whelan's bassoon to really sing, before the lively finale with it truly spectacular fast passages for the soloist. The baroque bassoon is relatively lacking in ironmongery so Whelan's playing showed deft fingerwork, combined with a lovely dark nutty sound, a fine legato (when needed) and a real sense of enjoyment of the music.

One of the delights of an Arcangelo concert is the way all concerned, not just soloists, play with a sense of vitality and engagement, giving a sense of an ensemble of individuals coming together for a common purpose, but each retaining their individuality.

Handel's Gloria has been mysteriously overlooked by history, being relatively recently rediscovered in manuscript at the Royal Academy of Music. An early work, the date and circumstances of its composition are unclear. But it is an unusual work, setting the full Latin text of the 'Gloria' for just a solo soprano. Emöke Baráth brought a lovely burnished tone and remarkable technical facility to the fast passages (it is a notably virtuoso work) and a lovely plangency to the slower ones. Despite her last minute appearacne she sang with confident style in an engaging manner, yet seemed to be having great fun too, as were Cohen and Arcangelo, and as were we.

After the interval we heard Purcell's Welcome to all the pleasures Z330 and ode for St Cecilia's Da from 1683 (the year before Blow's work). Frustratingly we do not really know what the relationships between the two works was, nor the details of the friendly rivalry between the two composers (technically master and pupil, yet only 10 year's different in age).

Purcell's setting of the rather trivial text gave scope for some richly sonorous dance-like ritornelli, plus characterful solos from Samuel Boden, Dingle Yandell, Stephen Kennedy, Thomas Walker, Charlotte Beament and Zoe Brookshaw, often interacting with the lively vocal ensemble. Purcell weaves his forces into a series of engaging scenes, each rendered hear with great vitality.

Vivaldi's Concerto in C for two trumpets RV537 as not written for the Pieta, the trumpet was most definitely not a lady-like instrument, and the work may have started out as an instrumental sinfonia. It featured two duelling trumpets (Neil Brough and Paul Sharp) who made a finely balanced pair, and clearly enjoyed the duelling.

The final work in the programme was Vivaldi's Gloria in D RV589, its familiarity given a somewhat new cast by virtue of the way Jonathan Cohen was really able to shape individual phrases of the work thanks to the responsiveness of the small forces used. Rarely has the piece seemed so expressively engaged, yet tempos kept lively and we never felt it dawdled.. The vocal ensemble was joined by Emöke Baráth who gave a polished account of the soprano solo and joined Zoe Brookshaw for 'Laudamus te' full of vitality. Alto Anna Harvey contributed a lovely, well-modulated 'Qui sedes' whilst David Allsopp combined rich tone with a fine legato in 'Domine Deus'.

This was a substantial evening, one full of vibrant music making; a lovely way to launch the New Year.

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