Sunday 25 February 2018

Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place

Pierre-Narcisse Guérin - Énée racontant à Didon les malheurs de la ville de Troie
Pierre-Narcisse Guérin - Énée racontant à Didon les malheurs de la ville de Troie
(from the Louvre)
Stravinsky, Berlioz, Haydn, Purcell; Karen Cargill, Scottish Ensemble, Matthew Truscott; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 23 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Two Didos, Arianna and Apollo in a wide-ranging yet engaging programme

As part of Kings Place's Time Unwrapped season, the Scottish Ensemble, guest leader Matthew Truscott and soprano Karen Cargill presented a programme entitle Prophecy, exploring different aspects of prophecy and myth in music. 'Dido's Lament' from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas was paired with Dido's 'Ah! Ah! je vais mourir! ... Adieu, fière cité' from Les Troyens, plus Haydn's cantata Arianna a Naxos and Igor Stravinsky's ballet Apollon musagète.

We opened with the first seven movements from Stravinsky's ballet Apollon musagète from the height of his neo-Classical period; Apollo was of course not just the God of Music but the God of Prophecy. The Scottish Ensemble play conductor-less, with 12 players, and in Stravinsky there was much delicacy of phrasing with a strong feeling of lyricism and striking sonorities. The group made a remarkably warm sound, with a lovely bounce in Stravinsky's crisp rhythms. This was vital music making, with plenty of energy and vividness.

The first half was completed by Haydn's cantata Arianna a Naxos. Originally written in 1789 for voice and keyboard, the cantata quickly became one of Haydn's most beloved works. A sequence of recitatives and two arias, it depicts Arianna waking up with Theseus absent, her growing anxiety turning to despair as she discovers he has departed. We opened with elegant grace from the Scottish Ensemble, and they brought a rhythmic incisiveness to the work which was comparable to their performance of the Stravinsky.
Karen Cargill sang the recitative with a sense of fluid and nicely delineated emotions. The tender and expressive first aria, was full of shapely phrasing and a lovely detailed accompaniment full of colour. The second recitative turned rather more dramatic, with a vivid unleashing of passion and Cargill did not neglect the words either, yet sang with wonderfully resonant tone. The final aria was beautifully phrased and moving, then concluding with a vivid fast section.

For part two we had a nicely fluid sequence which led from the overture to Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, to the recitative and aria from Berlioz' Les Troyens (in an arrangement for soprano and string ensemble by Iain Farrington) then Purcell's Fantasia no.7 and finally 'Dido's Lament' with the preceding recitative from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. It was surprising how well the sequence flowed, with Farrington's reduction of the Berlioz still keeping much of the orchestral texture and colour albeit on a reduced scale. The Purcell overture was played with quite an intense line, and the fast section fleet and light but still with bite. The Berlioz was performed with a remarkably strong, intense sound, with Cargill's Dido noble yet thoughtful, rising to strong intensity yet dying again. The aria showed a lovely contrast between the vibrant voice and the magical web of string sound. The Purcell Fantasia was full of plangent harmonies and fabulous false relations, with four intertwining string lines. And finally, 'Dido's Lament', with tender caressing phrases, but intensity too; a poised and moving account.

We finished by returning to Stravinsky's Apollon musagète for the final three movements, light textures and a lovely contrast between line and rhythm. In fact the crisp rhythms had not only a nice bounce to them but a real sense of joy, as well as a slightly jazzy element. The ending was slow, hypnotic and magical.

The Scottish Ensemble has a real sense of group personality, producing focused and vivid interpretations which engage, and in this beautifully conceived programme Karen Cargill (who replaced Christine Rice) fitted in beautifully, a fellow performer rather than a grand diva, and she brought her own sense of lively personality to the music. And it certainly made me wish to her more of her Didos (both Purcell and Berlioz). In the Stravinsky, the ensemble's rhythmic alertness made the lack of dancers hardly matter. We were treated to an encore, the curtain tune from Purcell's music for Timon of Athens.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood - interview
  • Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - CD review (****)
  • Notable recital debut disc from French Horn player Ben Golscheider - Cd review (****)
  • 18 years after its premiere, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking receives its first UK performance - Opera review (3.5 *)
  • Gerstein plays Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F - CD review (****)
  • Satyagraha: Philip Glass's opera at ENO - Opera review (****)
  • Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall on Signum Classics - CD review (****)
  • Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall - Concert review (****)
  • Bernstein, Gubaidulina & more: violinist Vadim Gluzman on the importance of contemporary repertoire  - Interview
  • Music in a cold climate: the sounds of Hansa Europe - CD review (***)
  • Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! Approachably melodic percussion concerto - CD review - CD review (***)
  • A Triptych: Irrational Theatre at the King's Head - Opera review (***)
  • Topsy-turvy fun: Cal McCrystal directs G&S's Iolanthe - Opera review (*****)
  • Old-fashioned passion: Benjamin Godard's Dante - CD review
  • Home

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