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Archive for November 17th, 2012|Daily archive page

“Remember Me”

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on November 17, 2012 at 10:21 am

Review – Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers – French Exchange (Sarah Connolly, Fernando Guimarães, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Jonathan Cohen).

The second instalment in the OAE’s QH&L’s series did not completely match the white hot intensity of the inaugural concert of the series. Personally, I think that this had more to do with the programming than the performers and performances themselves.

While I can understand the connection between the baroque French musical style and that of Henry Purcell, it seemed like a strange leap of artistic faith to conjoined him with Rameau who wrote his first opera almost forty years after Purcell’s death even if the programming included detours via Charpentier and Lalande.

Needless to say Sarah Connolly didn’t so much steal as command the evening. She is – in my mind – one of the greatest mezzos on the stage and concert hall today. I remember her more than notable performance in an otherwise disappointing Mahler Symphony No. 8 and have seen her on stage a number of times as well as having all her excellent recordings. And on the evening she not only bathed the audience with her wonderfully warm, resonant and luxurious voice but also demonstrated a keen and intelligent musicianship.

But it wasn’t in the set pieces taken from either Medée Hippolyte et Aricie but in the single and exquisitely performed aria from Dido and Aeneas, Thy Hand Belinda – When I Am Laid In Earth. A collective stillness settled on the audience during this most eloquent and beautiful rendition where Ms Connolly coloured each phrase and spun out gentle ornamentation. ‘Remember me’ has rarely – if ever – sounded so heartbreaking. I only wish the OAE had gone to the expense of closing with a real chorus – even just single voices.

Last minute changes to the programme led to some confusion as to who was singing what, when but even in the chunks of Charpentier and Rameau it was Ms Connolly who dominated. Her dignified yet impassioned delivery of the two scenes from Medée were a timely reminder that she will be performing the title role next year at the London Coliseum. Its a shame that her clear and fluent French diction won’t be heard in stage and you don’t have a ticket for ENO’s forthcoming production in 2013 now is the time to get one.

Cruelle mère des amour from Hippolyte et Aricie was another tour de force with Ms Connolly demonstrating that even within the confines of more-than-mannered French baroque opera there is plenty of scope for Phèdre’s emotional turmoil. And in the subsequent scene with her son, she more than compensated for the lukewarm Hippolyte of Guimarães.

Indeed and sadly Guimarães never really moved beyond lukewarm. While his voice has both a pleasing if one dimensional timbre and is both flexible and fluid, there was – for me – something of the bland about it. Perhaps it was the choice of repertoire on the evening but I didn’t think his voice particularly suited either the Purcell or the Rameau.

As before, the orchestra directed by Jonathan Cohen were superlative, digging with gusto into the orchestral excerpts from Charpentier, Rameau and Purcell and making the most of the rather non-descript Lalande. Indeed their clear enjoyment and passion for the music was demonstrated after the concert by two of the players extolling the joys and challenges of playing at a pitch of A392.

Ultimately however, Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers Parte Deux – bar inspired and assured performances by Ms Connolly – failed to reach the emotional intensity of the first concert.

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