Sonia Prina contralto
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in F major
Giovanni Ferrandini (1710-1791)
Cantata: Il pianto di Maria
This was a very well attended concert but in contrast to the JDD estravaganza, the mood was mostly relaxed. There was a certain buzz in the air, as if people had just started to catch on to Prina. Without a doubt her recent excursions in London have raised her status among Wiggy regulars.
A bit strangely, then, Prina showed up in a dress. I was caught unawares – she can dress however she wants but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen her dressed so formally. But, you may say, how appropriate is it to sing Mary’s lament other than formally dressed?
Perhaps to fit that mood and the fact that the show was broadcast live on BBC3, the Akademie sounded on the formal side of excellent. No doubt about their technical prowess and Baroque-ness.
Ferrandini’s Pianto di Maria seems popular among mezzos and contraltos but not so much with me. Prina decided on a very operatic take, with the dramatic turns energetically emphasised and the recit parts done with lots of fervour. I felt a bit of sameness of sound on the low end in spite of it all, so I think I prefer a higher or brighter tone if I have to listen to this piece at all.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantata: Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54
Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)
Concerto Grosso in E flat ‘Il Pianto d’Arianna’ Op. 7 No. 6
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629
But who may abide (Messiah)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629
After the interval we had the rather unusual chance to hear Prina sing in German. At least to my ears she did a very good job and I finally perked up.
Unsurprisingly my favourite moment of the night was Vivaldi’s Longe mala…, where I think Prina sounded most comfortable. Perhaps that was the reason why she also capped the night with it, much to my delight. The Akademie let their hair down a bit and matched her to perfection in the endless runs, which she of course took with much gusto. During the intermission I overheard a wry attendee do an uncanny and amusing impression of Prina’s very personal way with coloratura, so the above-mentioned runs brought a smile to my face in spite of the rough patch I went through the week before.
She returned to much applause with a “belated Christmas gift”, which turned out ot be But who may abide. It once again gave her the opportunity to shake the stage up during the energetic b-section. So a more sober encounter than usual but a Prina show is always warm and full of life and the public feels it and responds accordingly.
One of the most fun things at London Handel Festival is to attend recitals by the local young singers on the rise. You might remember I was very impressed by Averina’s performance as Dalinda in last year’s RCM production of Ariodante. Others agreed and she came second in London Handel Festival’s 2016 singing competition. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to hear her sing the tunes I imagine she likes best. As you can see below, they tend to be playful, always a bonus for me.
Galina Averina soprano
Claudia Norz violin
Oliver John Ruthven harpsichord
? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the cellist’s name as she had stepped in for the original one
Un cenno leggiadretto Serse
Restino imbalsamate La Calisto
Neghittosi, or voi che fate? Ariodante
Zerfliesse, mein Herze St John Passion
Piangero la sorte mia Giulio Cesare
Averina is vocally very accomplished, with a clear, easy coloratura and a pleasant, even tone across the range and from the getgo, good interaction with the instruments around her, as thadieu and I noticed last year in Ariodante. Her posture is very good and, though lively, knows how to contain her moves. She also looks like you’d imagine a character who has arias like Un cenno leggiadretto or Tornami a vagheggiar. Her characterisations were spot on, culminating with getting playful with her compact mirror on Myself I shall adore. It’s a long aria to marvel at one’s own gorgeousness but I think she loves herself all right 😉
Perhaps because the playful arias work so well for her, I was quite taken with the wistfulness she pulled for Zerfliesse… .
The violin sonata came off nicely, especially the Allegro part, where I really enjoyed the bassline.
Sonata in D major for violin HWV 371
Myself I shall adore Semele
Amour, lance tes traites! Platée
Tornami a vagheggiar Alcina
One glance at the setlist and something jumps right at you: we don’t often get French Baroque in London. It’s fun when it happens, especially if it’s one of Folie’s arias. You probably all remember Mireille Delunsch acting French-mad in that music sheet dress. If you don’t, check it out pronto. Averina did a lively job of it herself. I was reminded of an advice Marilyn Horne gave an English-language based singer presenting a German aria: pronounce it much stronger than you think necessary. Likewise, if it’s madness and it’s French you can fire all cylinders and it might not be nutty enough 😉 But she’s on the right track.
You know any setlist that includes Tornami… is guaranteed to make me book a ticket. I was amused that in her presentation of each aria Averina said of Piangero… (along the lines of) “this is the character every Baroque soprano wants to sing” but in regards to Tornami… “this is Handel’s most fun aria”. And it certainly is, for soprano. Even Myself I shall adore isn’t quite on that level of giddiness. It was as fun and playful as a closer could ever get.
Earnest moment of the month: have you noticed the curious thread that links most of these characters?
Atalanta: futile but cheerful scheming,
Calisto: her lesbian tendencies cruelly exploited (poor Calisto!) – also, what the hell is this thing about being turned into a bear? I mean, a bear?! Couldn’t she have been turned into a cat or a doe (something Diana loves)? Celestial Cat, the Big Cat and the Small Cat, Cat licking its Paw, Cat napping (any cluster or stars looks like a fat cat napping) – even her name can be tweaked to include cat 😉
Dalinda: duped and physically/sexually abused (we’re beyond poor here),
Semele: duped and burned to death (don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!!!),
Morgana: duped and… it’s not clear what happens to her other than she gets back with her ex. But, yea, in that context poor Platée, who’s only duped and humiliated in front of everybody who’s anybody is having it easy. So I think we need someone to get a Platée together in London.
But at least these unfairly treated women have some great arias/potentially show stealing moments in their respective operas.
In less earnest news, the dry, sunny weather continues in London. I took a few more pictures of that touristy area1, so you can have visual reminders every time there’s a writeup about Wiggy/St George’s Hanover Sq.
- After a long and tiring day at work, I took Wednesday off and went sightseeing in the city I’ve called home for the past 10 years; I tells ya, it’s never too late to get acquainted with the less visited rooms in your house. ↩
I’ve been catching up with my own recommendations and it was time to visit Gerhaher’s Proms 2016 take on Bach’s Ich habe genug. I liked it so much I listened to it twice in a row. So there you go, there is hope yet 😉
Edit: at some point the Proms link might go flat, so I thought I’d bump thadieu’s link to Stutzmann’s take on it for all of us contralto fans and because it’s wonderful in general:
Seeing as how it’s high Proms season, I thought I’d put a few reminders here in case any of you, dear local (or perhaps not so local? I don’t know how/if the iPlayer works outside the UK but I was able to access it a couple of years back) readers, would like to listen:
16 August: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Coote, Kunde and Mark Elder
19 August: Janacek’s The Makropulos Affair with Mattila
20 August: Mozart’s Mass in C minor
26 August: Mozart’s Requiem
30 August: JS Bach’s Cantata #82, “Ich habe genug” with Gerhaher
01 September: JS Bach’s Mass in B minor with Les Arts Florissants/Christie
04 September: Rossini’s Semiramide with Shagimuratova, Barcellona,
09 September: Verdi’s Requiem
…and if you can’t listen and would like to, let me know and maybe we can work something out, as they are supposed to sit on the iPlayer for the next month or so.
Popular wisdom has is classical music can bring out the best in you (calm you down, make you smarter). This Good Friday Bach brought out a spectacular amount of enthusiastic, highly engaged coughing from the audience.
Academy of Ancient Music | Choir of the AAM
Richard Egarr director & harpsichord
James Gilchrist Evangelist
Matthew Rose Jesus
Elizabeth Watts soprano
Sarah Connolly alto
Andrew Kennedy Mark Le Brocq tenor
Christopher Purves bass(-baritone)
Before going I warmed up by reading a review of a different performance by a completely different team (as you do). The author made a point of saying how intimate it felt. Well, I didn’t feel any intimacy in this particular instance. I was waiting for some/any emotion to overtake me but in the end my mind wandered (to pleasant things, true).
I did enjoy it quite a bit on an intellectual level (oh, the mighty structure! the dialogue between the two choirs and the soloists etc.) but I didn’t feel religious fervour or abandon. In the end it felt too Lutheran and my Baroque wiring is mostly of Italian origin. Case in point: there was precision aplenty, impressively adhered to by Egarr and Co. with some perfectly timed interventions by the choir. There were moments of great energy that came off vividly and almost memorably, interspersed with introspective bits; all very logical. If anything it felt like a well done thing performed with care. But I was hardly moved. For that I fault Herr JS.
The Evangelist was (understandably) really into the story, very vivid voice acting. Though sounding like a massive worrywart rather than intimate storyteller, he was always engaging and my favourite part of the evening. It’s been a while since I was so eager for the next bit of recit. SC’s voice sounded lovely from the getgo and very at home within the (very disciplined “everybody in their place”) oratorio format. Pity the alto part seemed to call for a slew of pp sad and introspective arias and little else. I’d heard EW live before (as Zerlina) and wasn’t quite convinced. In this outing I caught a rather evocative, full middle, which I liked a lot better than the perhaps imprecise top.
As often with Baroque, there was a lot of wind instrument accompaniment for the solo arias. Come the second or third soprano aria, the oboe – whilst sounding rather nice – was so damn loud I could not focus on Watts’ voice for love or money. All I could hear was the oboe (
west left side, the other orchestra was effectively blocked by a giant leaning head smack dab in front of me), going to town recital-mode. “Some of my best friends are oboists” – by which I mean I really like all the woodwinds, possibly better than I like sopranos. But if there are other things in the mix I’d like to hear those too (even the sopranos).
Later, in the middle of one of the alto arias where the main tune was carried by the flute, Mr Oboe, ever so mezzoforte and above even when playing the bass line, gave us an explanation of sorts. His part went along the lines of: tu. tu. tu. tu. tee. tu. tu. tu etc. – for about 15 minutes. I feel your pain, buddy. Still, curb your enthusiasm a little when you get that much coveted main tune. We can hear you below the soprano.
The perils of sold out shows. During every – and I mean every – break in the music/singing/recitative the audience greedily joined in via an impressive variety of coughs and sneezes with the increasing frequency and stridency of summer shower droplets against the window pane. In the midst of (yet another) elegiac aria towards the end, someone 2-3 rows ahead and 20 people to my right surprised us with their own wrapping paper accompaniment. It went on for so long, half the people in the row immediately ahead of me turned to marvel at the solid performance. I can assure you it was as incisive and memorable as Mr Oboe’s antics. To be fair, the main hall of the Barbican was rather dry yesterday. But not too dry for yours truly to zzzz off at the tail end of the Passion.