Zefiro Torna: Les Talens Lyriques

Botticelli: The Birth of Venus

(St John’s Smith Square, 7 June 2017)

As part of their celebrations for the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, the French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques were on stage in London for one night only, for a selection of madrigals and operatic scenes written by the great composer. I’d never seen them perform live, although I have many of their recordings, and was eager to see them at last under the baton of Christophe Rousset. The recital was made even more irresistible by the singers: two tenors whom I like very much: the Swiss Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, whom I’ve seen in several other roles, and the Swedish haute contre Anders J. Dahlin, who sings Dario in my much-loved recording of Vivaldi’s Incoronazione di Dario. My expectations were high and yet, remarkably, they were exceeded by this elegant concert which blended heartfelt grace with dramatic verve.

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Lawrence Zazzo: Weeping Philosophers

Lawrence Zazzo

(BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, at the Wigmore Hall, 1 May 2017)

I’ve been waiting for two-and-a-half years to see Lawrence Zazzo in the flesh. In the first flush of my Baroque obsession, back in October 2014, I bought his album A Royal Trio and fell in love with his rendition of Handel’s Va tacito e nascosto. Ever since, I’ve longed to see him live and finally got my wish in this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at the Wigmore Hall. Languishing in the realms of the early Baroque, this recital presented a cornucopia of lute-songs and cantatas by Caccini, Frescobaldi, Strozzi and Durante. Zazzo was accompanied by three gifted musicians: Silas Wollston on organ and harpsichord; Daniele Caminiti on archlute and baroque guitar; and Jonathan Rees on bass viol and viola da gamba. By heaven, it was worth the wait.

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Il Duello Amoroso: Louise Alder and Emilie Renard

Louise Alder

(David Bates and La Nuova Musica at St George’s Hanover Square, 20 April 2017)

Thanks to work travel, I haven’t been able to see all that much of the London Handel Festival this year, but I’d been looking forward to this event: a programme of duets performed by two of our most talented young singers, Louise Alder and Emilie Renard. These duets were chamber pieces written by Handel during his early period in Italy and the most famous of them was the cantata Amarilli vezzosa, composed in 1708. It was a rare chance to hear these early works: I only wish La Nuova Musica’s music director, David Bates, had kept a more sympathetic balance between orchestra and singers.

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Philippe Jaroussky: Bach and Telemann

Philippe Jaroussky

(with Le Concert de la Loge, at the Wigmore Hall, 1 December 2016)

In June 2015, when we met Philippe Jaroussky after his Festival Concert in Halle, we asked when he’d next be coming to London. His answer was non-committal and typically modest: he wasn’t sure; he didn’t know if the English were all that fond of what he did. But I hope Thursday’s concert at the Wigmore Hall showed that there’s hope for us yet. The recital had sold out months ago and my brilliant friend only managed to secure tickets by incessantly badgering the box office for returns. The hall was stuffed to the gunwales; the atmosphere was palpable; and yet there were times you could have heard the smallest of pins drop. Refined, elegiac and utterly professional, Jaroussky showed us all once again why he remains the hottest countertenor ticket of all.

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Classical Opera: La Cantarina (1766)

Rachel Kelly

Haydn: Symphony No. 34 in D Minor · Mysliveček: Arias from Semiramide · Haydn: La Canterina

(Classical Opera, directed by Ian Page, Wigmore Hall, 19 September 2016)

I deliberated long and hard about whether to rate this or not. After all, I don’t rate recitals but I do rate operas. Which was this? In the end, I decided that I would treat it as a recital, because the opera element was only one of three different sections. Plus, that saved me the trouble of having to think of a rating, so everyone’s a winner. But, had I rated it, it would have been very much a thumbs-up. This evening at the Wigmore was another stage in Classical Opera’s Mozart 250 project and introduced us to a variety of interesting works written in 1766, all performed with great elan by the orchestra and a quartet of admirable singers under the baton of Ian Page.

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Vivaldi: Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55

Nathalie Stutzmann

(Wigmore Hall, 2 July 2016)

On Saturday night it was time for the second contralto recital of the week, this time the multi-talented Nathalie Stutzmann and her orchestra Orfeo 55. You may remember that I saw Stutzmann for the first time at last year’s Halle Handel Festival, where she conducted (and guest-starred) in Philippe Jaroussky’s concert. Tonight she had the stage to herself, both conducting – a variety of beautifully-balanced orchestral pieces – and singing – a selection of arias ranging from the playful to the anguished. And all were by the doyen of Venetian style: the glorious Red Priest himself.

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Arias by Gluck: Sonia Prina

Sonia Prina

(with La Barocca, directed by Ruben Jais, Wigmore Hall, 28 June 2016)

Sonia Prina is one of the most colourful personalities in the world of Baroque music (which is saying something), and although I’d seen her on DVD as the warrior queen Partenope and the scheming vizier Artabano, I hadn’t heard her in the flesh until Tuesday at the Wigmore. Here she treated us to a programme of sparkling, mostly pre-reform Gluck. Performed with panache and a glorious disdain for convention, it was quite an experience.

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Franco Fagioli: Arias for Caffarelli

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(Wigmore Hall, with Il Pomo d’Oro directed by Riccardo Minasi, 13 November 2015)

It’s just over a year since Franco Fagioli made his solo London debut at the Wigmore, a night which was memorable for several reasons. It was my first Baroque concert, and it also introduced me to a wonderful circle of friends with whom I’ve since travelled to operas and concerts across Europe. When we were in Halle in June we heard a very similar programme to that offered in Fagioli’s second London recital at the Wigmore last Friday, but his great strength as an artist is that he never sings an aria the same way twice. For me, the London concert was more adventurous and more emotionally engaged than the recital in Halle; and, in any case, there were two mouthwatering new additions to the programme: Se bramate d’amar and Crude furie. Franco Fagioli doing Serse? Now this promised to be seriously good fun.

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Raging Roland: Cathy Bell

RagingRoland

(Handel House, 8 October 2015)

 Having been delighted by Cathy Bell‘s Venti turbini the other week, I’d really been looking forward to this recital at Handel House focused on Ludovico Ariosto’s Renaissance epic. The programme was split equally between Handel (Orlando and Alcina) and Vivaldi (Orlando furioso), and Bell was accompanied by two other members of last year’s Handel House Talent group: Marie van Rhijn on harpsichord, and Caoimhe de Paor joining them on recorder for a formidably complicated piece of Vivaldi, on which more later. Fittingly, given its source, it was a recital that offered rage and romance in equal measure. Continue reading