Christophe Rousset & Co. + Sandrine Piau (Wigmore Hall, 30 April 2016)

If you don’t check your email the day of the show you can get a surprise. A good surprise or a bad one. This one turned out to be good: Ann Hallenberg was scheduled to sing, couldn’t make it and we got a soprano instead. Lucky for us, a very good soprano. The funny thing was, thadieu and I had some time to kill on the way to the venue and were actually talking (appreciatively) about Piau.

The show was billed Les Talens Lyriques but it wasn’t quite. It consisted of:

Christophe Rousset, director, harpsichord
Gilone Gaubert-Jacques, violin
Jivka Kaltcheva, violin
Emmanuel Jacques, cello

Sandrine Piau, soprano

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737)
Cantata: La Morte di Lucretia

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 3 No. 5

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Cantata: Tinte a note di sangue

Interval

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 1 No. 12 RV63 ‘La follia’

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Cantata: Notte placida e cheta HWV142

Encore:

Piangero la sorte mia, Giulio Cesare
Tornami a vagheggiar, Alcina

Though it could’ve gone a day late and a dollar short it was actually very enjoyable. Having bought our tickets at different times, thadieu (<- writeup here) and I once again had separate seats. I had one of my usual places dead centre at the back of the venue but this time I was glad for an upgrade. It was the first time I had problems with the Wigmore balcony overhang, quite curious. I wasn’t expecting a booming voice out of Piau but I didn’t think I’d have to strain to hear either. Perhaps I need my ears cleaned… or Piau’s voice only carries over to row T. In any case, I moved to thadieu’s seat (she’d upgraded to the row ahead) after the intermission and didn’t have any more issues. This was 4 rows up on the extreme left. I’m pleased to have found that the sound is in no way warped at the side of the venue.

At the interval we ran into a local gent whom thadieu had “befriended” at Il Vologeso. He made the rather unusual comment that Piau would sometimes open her mouth and no sound would be forthcoming. Afterwards I made it a point to watch her face intently. It was quite clear to me that the issue I had had wasn’t related to no sound coming out, rather to Piau’s very quiet approach to singing/size of her voice. It turned out that what the gent had experienced was related to preparation. He was quite perceptive, too, because Piau only took a fraction of a second to prepare before launching sound.

Related to what thadieu herself was saying about Piau’s facial expressions whilst singing, that didn’t bother me in the least. In fact I focused on and enjoyed the Frenchness of Piau’s manner. Sometimes I get a very clear vibe from a first live encounter with a singer. Piau stepped on stage at the same time as the instrumentalists and seemed unaffected and direct.

I’d first heard her via the badarse rendition of Da tempeste which to this day remains my top favourite. She has that exact control on stage. I found her singing manner very interesting, perhaps textbook Baroque, almost completely un-operatic/no trace of vibrato, very precise and efficient1 though with lots of emotional inflections just via colour, dynamics and her personal brand of chutzpah when the text calls for such.

She did get to ff on a couple of occasions (without strain) but mostly kept things between pp and mezzoforte. Somehow, in spite of the gentleness of her manner things never felt overly polished. Both thadieu and I were impressed with the unusual warmth of her voice. It’s one of those rare soprano voices you can see yourself listen to for hours without a headache. The pieces were rather low but we didn’t hear ping even on Tornami. All in all, a very well shaped, well schooled and well taken care of voice.

[Notes on the instrumental side] Rousset pulled some surprisingly full sound from the harpsichord on a few occasions. As for the strings, I loved the intentional choppiness/shredding in Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in D minor so much that I was disappointed when it finished. Over time I’ve gone through many phases with Vivaldi, from the ubiquitous Seasons when I was just old enough to put a vinyl on to the excitement of finding his vocal music as an adult to a partial (time devoted to opera permitting) return to his instrumental music in recent months. Of late I’ve developed an interest in finding out just how much smaller and smaller ensembles can rock. After some random ‘tube sampling, I noticed that La follia seemed to be a popular theme for minor key works and most of them are really good (like this Geminiani one).

Rousset himself introduced the encores but I didn’t understand what he said 😉 so when Tornami a vagheggiar started I was once again very pleasantly surprised and then found myself singing along (very quietly).

Later on strolling down a finally quieter Oxford Street, thadieu and I tested the limitations of our respective ranges by attempting it (humming, don’t get too excited) then alternating it with the Mingardo low C (it seemed ridiculously low but very satisfyingly rumbly) which – according to thadieu – is necessary when pronouncing cat in Vietnamese. I pointed out that my cat’s meow comes off a lot higher but apparently that has no relevance. So: tornami a vaghe-meow-meow-meow-meow… all the way to Marble Arch, which was of course the wrong way.


  1. She can cut a sound very short without it sounding like a gymnast’s hard landing. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on May 5, 2016, in baroque, live performances, sopranos, wigmore hall and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Your writing is so composed and detailed, i jealous 🙂 . But if i ever “attempt” at such i’d never write.. lovely observations on S.Piau’s control and body expression. I did miss the latter part 🙂 but it’s hard to miss the 1st. I wonder though, you think she can go “Simone Kermes” and letting it ripped?

    Thanks for writing about the instrument part too! I remember really loving the vivaldi in particular. I think they have the nice balance also with the harsichord because if it’s string-quartet can be difficult (for my ears): i need the tum ta rum, tum ta rum, and yes, you’re right, i wanted to acknowledge also C.Rousset’s take on the harpsichord! At times i wonder if one can even “phrase” such an instrument but clearly he & E.Haïm have demonstrated now to me yes you can, and you must 🙂

    (ps- we also practiced the “high D” for fish, and I’d like to be on record to say i have no clue what a “high A B C D” mean in term of hearing.. but a “plunging Mingardo low D C B” will always be muuuuuuch appreciated and is the way to make a worshiper out of td! (but please, not the carmen_tancredi way 😮 )

    (perhaps also time to check with those who can hear which low note M.Papatanasiu plunged down to as Sifare and esp. as Semiramide when i heard she used her chest voice 3x…) . And you’d be impressed to know A.Hallenberg hit several very impressive low notes with aplomb as Arsace (am “told” they’re low G).

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    • I don’t think she’s quite the let it rip type of singer. I also felt a sort of detachment or shyness or something like that (she might be a very private person) which comes through her Alcina as well.

      yes, you can phrase on the harspichord, there are quite a few times I’ve heard it done. I wish I could explain it. What I think from remembering “the good times” is you have to know the strengths of the instrument and use them instead of treating it like something it is not. Since it’s very rhythm oriented I think working with that might be the key – at least in the case of this recital I remember Rousset getting a good tempo, being very rhythmical and also carrying the melody kind of at the same time (sort of like this bit in the Bucharest Poppea). But I wish someone who plays it would explain.

      I know low G is the note on “di me” in Non piu di fiori (the lowest Vitellia gets to hit). Technically a mezzo should hit it and even some sopranos, though not many (which is why some sopranos do the low G on an “a” vowel instead. It’s harder on the “e”, which is why I was struggling with the cat 😉

      haha, the end of fish I think might just be a high D.

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