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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


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

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.

Soporific Berenice (London Handel Fest, 17 March 2016)

One year to the day after that memorable Catone in Utica we returned to St George’s Hanover Sq for another London Handel Fest event. But was this as successful as last year’s romp?

Berenice: Charlotte Beament soprano
Selene: Emma Stannard mezzo
Alessandro: Anat Edri soprano
Demetrio: Michal Czerniawski countertenor
Arsace: Timothy Morgan countertenor
Fabio: Christopher Turner tenor
Aristobolo: Tim Dickinson bass
La Nuova Musica | St George’s Hanover Sq

Sadly it was not. We learn that 1737 was not Handel’s year, the constant stress of the music business taking its toll on his health to the point where he could not conduct Berenice. Though the work contains some interesting orchestral ideas, it trails rather tiringly by act III.

I wouldn’t blame that on the tempi, which seemed to me decent, but on the work itself and occasionally on the singers. There are two arias (one for Berenice, one for Alessandro) in act III so long I was starting to lose the will to live. During Berenice’s one I had time to imagine (in details) her children’s children getting old whilst yet another da capo was being navigated. Imagine having to sit through all of Ginevra’s laments back to back without a break in between. And this aria was actually chipper, with some nice accompaniment (violin? oboe? Excuse me if I forget, I was fighting sleep and losing. There was nice writing for both solo violin and oboe in several places. Whilst we’re on insturments, I enjoyed the solid work by the low strings throughout – when conscious). That wasn’t even as bad as Alessandro’s, which had the added badluck of coming after this marathon on my patience. By the middle of Alessandro’s I was praying for a crack or a broken string, collapsing harspichord, anything to make the proceedings more alive.

But what’s Berenice about? She’s a Queen of Egypt (daughter of Ptolemy IX of Handel’s Tolomeo fame) who wants to marry Demetrio, a Macedonian prince who loves and is loved by her sister, Selene. Together these two are plotting to overthrow her with the help of our old friend Mitridate (re di Ponto) – who does not appear in this opera. Powers that be in Rome decree that Berenice, as vassal, shall marry who they want and that of course isn’t Demetrio. It’s a patrician called Alessandro. Though the enemy, Alessandro shows he’s already developed the Roman trademark maganimous ruler skills and over three acts wows Berenice with his honourable behaviour. In the end everyone couples up “as they should” (sadly save for Fabio and Aristobolo).

After catching my ear in Orontea (also presented by La Nuova Musica), I was looking forward to hear Michal Czerniawski again. He did not disappoint. I was basking in his gentle manner of singing every time one of Demetrio’s arias came up. He’s perfect for hoplessly romantic characters. I enjoyed Christopher Turner more this time as Fabio (the Roman ambassador) as he took his character to town vocally and dramatically and seemed to be having quite a bit of fun. Emma Stannard (Selene) has a proper mezzo voice and I thought she was pretty good, especially in her interactions with Demetrio. Charlotte Beament in the title role was more interesting dramatically than in her vocal phrasing, especially when she stormed around in scorned queen manner or presided from the pulpit (using the entire hall to place singers was a welcome touch). Anat Edri as her Alessandro had one moment (a lyrical aria in act II I think) where I remember some nicely floated notes but otherwise I could not follow her character at all, vocally or dramatically.

If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to my favourite and (too?1) much repeated quote from the great late Harnoncourt:

The audience isn’t here for a singing lesson, they’re here to see characters.

  1. I don’t believe it’s ever too often. This is what opera is all about.