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Trills on demand with Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica (Wigmore Hall, 11 December 2018)

A Vivaldi-heavy performance is only fitting to cap a very exciting concert-going year, that has brought me to Vivaldi’s homebase twice. In furore iustissimae irae is one of those badass motets that can only come from the Red Priest (lest we forget he was an ordained priest; I usually do, his music sounds so wordly most of the time) and it was this that convinced me to attend, even though they livestreamed it. Somehow I have not noticed anyone else bringing it to Wiggy in my time of patronising the venue. I hope more do in the future.

I’ve seen La Nuova Musica in action enough to know what to expect. I have to commend Lucy Crowe for the highest professionalism with which she adapted to the breakneck speeds that are so dear to Bates. Her tone is too sweet (not a criticism) to call what she used “machinegun coloratura” but it’s definitely one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve heard so far. Her top has enough piercing power to break through the volume levels Bates likes to employ.

Gent from Manchester who took 3 trains for this event: she’s more like a mezzo.

Because she sang Gelido in ogni vena, which I’ve only heard contraltos (and countertenors) sing so far? An interesting choice, I agree, proving she has a middle, but something that benefits from a conductor more focused on emotional detail than energy and forward momentum.

She sounded in top form from the getgo, though I still think that, overall, I prefer her in Mozart (I loved her Ismene in Mitridate! She sounded like she was having so much fun, even though the production is somewhat restrictive in allowing you to put your personal touch on the character; then again, I wasn’t so keen on her Susanna and my interest in her was sparked by her Rodelinda… so you see how it goes). I would say from a techincal point of view she absolutely rocked and this was what Bates wanted from her. I suppose had he wanted her to add personality as well, she would’ve.

For its part, La Nuova Musica is perhaps more suited to Handel, as – at least to me – the sound was too heavy for Vivaldi/Italian Baroque, and occasionally the top strings produced a smudgy sound. The harpsichord was, of course, loud.  So heavy-ish, loud and furious, though not ponderous but also not souple and bright.

Lucy Crowe soprano
La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Overture from Il Farnace RV711
Siam navi all’onde algenti from L’Olimpiade RV725
Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace RV711

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor Op. 6 No. 8 ‘For a Christmas Night’

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Land in an Isle (Part One: Translation of the Body) (London première)

Antonio Vivaldi
Motet: In furore iustissimae irae RV626

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Gloria HWV deest
Sonata a5 HWV288

Nico Muhly
Land in an Isle (Part Two: Land in an Isle) (London première)

George Frideric Handel
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV46a
Tu del ciel ministro eletto
Un pensiero nemico di pace

Encore:
Lascia la spina from Il trionfo…

The Il trionfo bits were also of much interest to me, as I have never seen it/heard any of them live yet. I admit that when Bates said they’d have another trionfo aria for the encore, this time from Piacere, my heart skipped a bit in hopes of Come nembo. After that coloratura fest, can you blame me? Failing that, at least Un pensiero was as lively as one can hope, though that one could hope for more lightness 😉

Not sure I’d heard any Muhly before. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I had no particular reaction to the piece. The biggest effect was showcasing Crowe’s diction in English vs Italian. It could have been the high speeds, but her Italian was mostly vowels.

I was first introduced to In furore… by Roschmann, of all people. Unless you’re familiar with this wonderful motet, you may not know that Roschamann used to sing this kind of stuff when she was very young (1994). It’s quite the rarity for me but you can feel her distinctive personality already, albeit in a much lighter presentation than we know and love.

Then I went on to listen to Piau’s definitive version and so on. It’s a piece that benefits from a more introverted approach rather than an operatic one, dealing as it is with one’s relationship with sin, divine forgiveness and human rejoicing.

The event was suprisingly well attended, perhaps it’s the time of year when people feel a particular pull towards live culture – and thus people were very happy with the performance. I was somewhat amused to have a May-December couple plop next to me. This is not an unusual occurence at Wiggy, where we have the following types of public: old money mature populace who goes to these things as a matter of fact, music students, other musicians, regular music loving people/fans of the singer/band/conductor and academics and their much younger partners (ex (one hopes)-students). The May part of the couple behaved exactly like the young woman from Carol.

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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.