lietofinelondon

Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Cohen’

Aria for … Monday – Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori (Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)

In Aria For ..., Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera on April 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm

One of the most frustrating things is not always having the time to write up and give due justice when a notable new recital disc is released.

On this occasion it was Christopher Purves’ disc of Handel arias for bass with the marvellous ensemble Arcangelo.

Sadly work and travel got in the way.

Again it’s nice when shuffle throws up something unexpected. And especially after a long day in the office and Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori from Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo was a perfect antidote to commuter-dom.

I have to admit that I prefer this, Handel’s earlier Italian version – by a decade – to the English version of 1718. As well as this aria there is the heart-stopping Verso gia l’alma col sangue and generally the music is beautifully original.

Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori shares the same sentiment and warm instrumental colouring of the aforementioned but there the similarity ends. This is possibly one of the bleakest simile arias ever written – the dying moth burnt from the lure of the flame drawing a parallel with a soul that will never know either hope nor pleasure of love.

And Handel writes an aria of great yet simple poignancy completely at odds – you would think – with the inhumanity of Polifemo. But personally, I prefer to think that Handel wished to make the giant less a monster and more a man as witnessed by the music written for the role over and above this aria.

With the distinct colouring of a flute – so often associated with death and tomb scenes in Handel’s operas and melancholy in general in Baroque music – the range required of the singer is vast. And married to this is the requirement for the singer to have absolute technical virtuosity and control to deliver and sustain the vocal line.

And Christopher Purves has it in spades. Of course I still have burned into my memory his incredible performance as The Protector in George Benjamin’s Written On Skin. Here his resonant and richly coloured bass effortlessly manages both the wide tessitura required but sung with complete mastery, never once letting the vocal line sag.

Purves’ performance in this aria – and the entire disc – only reaffirms him as a remarkable talent and one of the leading basses performing today.

And as ever, sympathetically supported by Arcangelo directed by Jonathan Cohen.

This aria would be reason enough to purchase this disc if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire disc is magnificent.

“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.

My Raptur’d Soul

In Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on July 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Review – Arias For Guadagni
Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo & Jonathan Cohen

Guadagni was one of the most famous – or infamous – castrati of the Eighteenth Century and his career included close association with composers from Handel to Hasse and Gluck who’s Orfeo ed Euridice he championed.

After a shaky start his musical career blossomed and Charles Burney referred to him at least twice. In 1755 when he was in London he remarked on his “full and well-toned voice” and later when visiting Padua – where Guadagni later settled – he remarked that he was “for taste, expression, figure, and action … at the head of his profession”.

And these two descriptions could be similarly ascribed to Iestyn Davies. In the year that we are celebrating – even if it is in rather muted fashion – the centenary of the birth of Alfred Deller, the first great countertenor, it is only fitting that the Iestyn Davies’ talent is being fully recognised and his star is in the ascendant.

And among the numerous countertenors on the stage today it is refreshing that he hasn’t been subjugated by marketing but has focused on musicianship and intelligent performance.

That is not to say that his colleagues are not accomplished for the most part but in a sense Davies has more in common with Andreas Scholl’s scholarly and measured manner than his other European counterparts.

And the similarities in the timbre and the shape of their voices can’t be denied in my opinion. As well as seamless legato they both posses an evenness of tone throughout their range and a bell-like upper register without any sense of the harshness of their colleagues. There is something slightly more metallic and angular in the vocal timbres of a countertenor like Jaroussky or Cencic and to a certain extend Valer Barna-Sabadus but that is not to say that they are unattractive. They are simply the flip side of a vocal type that I do enjoy.

But Iestyn Davies is in an entirely different league. An intelligent performer, he has an incredible grasp of technique married with a faultless sense of interpretation.

I have seen and enjoyed Davies’ numerous stage performances over the years. Those that come most readily to mind are his performance as Creonte in Steffani’s Niobe at Covent Garden, a wonderful and poignant production, and his numerous roles for ENO including a beautiful performance in Mark Morris’ King Arthur, as Armindo in Partenope, and his magnificent Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And this recital disc, of arias written for the famous castrato Gaetano Guadagni, is simply brilliant and he is more than ably supported with a mix of gusto and delicacy by Jonathan Cohen and the players of Arcangelo.

From the hushed opening of O Lord, Whose Mercies Numberless to the closing aria on the disc composed by Guadagni himself, Davies’ musicianship and simple enjoyment of the arias he sings is manifest. All combined with crystal diction effortless technique.

His Handel is unsurpassed. The purity and control of the vocal line combined with the dignity he imbues in the embellishments in the opening aria from Solomon sets the standard for the entire disc. And The Raptur’d Soul from Theodora has a true sense of rhythmic alertness in the triplet flourishes combined with real fluid legato. And – as I have said before – how refreshing not to have the da capo too heavily ornamented.

Yet, Can I Hear That Dulcet Lay, from The Choice of Hercules is exquisite and sadly so rarely heard and again plays to the strengths of Davies technique as he spins out the gentle coloratura with complete ease.

However the ‘Handel highlight’ of the disc is the magnificently martial Destructive War, Thy Name Is Known from Belshazzar. Davies flings out the divisions with abandon and is brilliantly supported by bright yet light playing from the players and in particularly the crisply articulated brass. Whole I thought Marie Nicole Lemieux was enjoyable this Iestyn Davies’ rendition is stellar.

Hasse is a countertenor’s dream and quite rightly as he wrote some of his most beautiful music for castrati. Like Barna-Sabadus he opts for a selection from Didone Abbandonata but not the same arias.

Ah, Che dissi! … Se Resto Sul Lido with its accompagnato and then unexpected slow opening vocal section is a real gallant gem with the tempo changes expertly handled by both singer and orchestra. And Davies never makes the short declamatory phrase sound clipped or snatched as might be expected. And again he avoids the temptation to over-ornament in the returning opening section.

The martial returns with Odi Colà La Frigia Tomba? … A Triofar Mi Chiama with its impressive horn playing and Lombardy snaps and also give ample opportunity to enjoy the breadth of Davies vocal range and especially the bell-like upper notes I referred to earlier.

Guadagni didn’t not only sing Handel roles when he was in London and Davies includes two arias by English composers. The first is from JC Smith’s The Fairies Say, Lovely Dream and the second is from Thomas Arne’s Alfred, Vengeance, Oh Come Inspire Me. The former aria is deceptively simple with its gentle and murmuring string writing below a vocal line that belies its simplicity and requires a strong and confident technique to deliver its sustained notes and high tessitura as well as the delicate roulades and trills. The Arne is almost a typical period ‘vengeance’ aria that Davies dispatches with the necessary vigour and bite. What makes it more notable is Arne’s use of unison between voice and orchestra as well as use of dramatic pauses.

It makes one wish that Davies and these players will consider a disc of arias by Handel’s English contemporaries and successors alone.

But if I had the tiniest reservations with the disc it is this – the inclusion of a symphony by CPE Bach. I am not convinced by the argument made in the sleeve note. Again don’t misunderstand me, I love CPE Bach’s symphonies and it is brilliantly played with real Emfndsamer-stil style, but that is exactly the problem. The narrative of the disc works for me in terms of Handel to Hasse to Handel’s contemporaries to finally Gluck. CPE Bach is literally world’s apart in terms of style and emotion.

But as I have said it is a small price to pay. And in some ways it serves to clean the palette in preparation for Davies’ Gluck.

From Telemaco comes Ah! Non Turbi Il Mio Riposo with its doleful oboe obbligato and hesitant phrasing. Davies captures the poignantly of this aria beautifully while maintaining the exposed legato vocal line.

The most startling thing about the opening bars of the arioso Che Puro Ciel! from Orfeo ed Euridice is how – for some reason – it reminded me of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. I can only put this down to the wonderfully articulated playing of the orchestra. A real moment and this is heightened when Davies enters and there is no sense that the orchestra is in any muted below the singer. I don’t think I have heard this arioso performed with such clarity and beauty in a long time.

One review I read that said that Davies didn’t convincingly carry off the broad phrases in Orfeo. I don’t agree at all. If anything Davies elegant phrasing and attention to the words highlights the simplicity of Che Farò to greater effect.

The final aria of the recital, Pensa a sebarmi o cara, was written by Guadagni himself. To be honest after the gems that precede it his own aria – while clearly playing to his vocal abilities – is a pleasant enough example of galanterie but nothing more.

Yet it doesn’t detract from the overall impact of either the entire recital or Iestyn Davies’ talent.

This is a hugely enjoyable recital and one I return to often. I am looking forward to his performance at Wigmore Hall this November and in advance of that I heartily recommend this disc to everyone.

Subitolove

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

(A love affair with music)

Gareth's Culture and Travel Blog

Sharing my cultural and travel experiences

The Oxford Culture Review

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" - John Cage

The Passacaglia Test

The provision and purview of classical music

Peter Hoesing

...a musicologist examining diverse artistic media in critical perspective

OBERTO

Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera

Opera Teen

It is so important for people at a young age to be invited to embrace classical music and opera. -Luciano Pavarotti