Music / The Berkshire Review in Australia

Purcell and Handel with Andreas Scholl & Co.

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Henry Purcell (left), line engraving by Robert White, after John Closterman and George Frideric Handel (right), line engraving by Jacobus Houbraken.

Sydney Recital Hall, Angel Place: 12 March 2011
part of the Musica Viva series
repeat performances in Sydney 21 March, Brisbane 23 March, Adelaide 25 March

Andreas Scholl – countertenor
Tamar Halperin – harpsichord
Daniel Yeadon – viola da gamba, Baroque cello
Tommie Andersson – baroque guitar, theorbo

Andreas Scholl. Photo: Keith Saunders.

Henry Purcell
Music for a While
from Oedipus, Z583 (c ?1692)

Sweeter than Roses
from Pausanius, the Betrayer of His Country, Z585 (c 1695)

Evening Hymn, Z193 (c 1688)

Round O in D minor, ZT684 (c 1695)

Since from My Dear Astrea’s Sight
from The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian, Z627 (c 1690)
(Transcribed for viola da gamba and continuo)

Fairest Isle
from King Arthur, Z628 (c 1691)

Dido’s Lament
from Dido and Aeneas, Z626 (c ?1689)

Harpsichord Suite in G minor, Z661 (c 1696)

Tamar Halperin. Photo: Keith Saunders.

O Solitude, Z406 (c 1687)

Man is for the Woman Made
from The Mock Marriage, Z605 (c 1695)

George Frideric Handel
Sonata in G minor, op 1 no 6 HWV364 (c 1724)

Vedendo Amor (When Cupid Saw), HWV175 (1707–08)

Tunes for Clay’s Musical Clock (selection) (c 1730–40)
Arranged by Tommie Andersson
I Sonata for a Musical Clock, HWV598
II Air, HWV604
III Minuet, HWV603
IV [Gigue], HWV599

Harpsichord Suite no 2 in F major, HWV427 (c 1710–17)
I Adagio
II Allegro

Nel dolce tempo (In That Sweet Time), HWV135 (c 1710)

Most seem to agree musical historicism can go too far: imagine a Plymouth Plantation-style re-enactment of a concert of Baroque music with the audience coming and going, eating picnics in the gods, a musician wearing a modern watch dismissed as a “farb.” Luckily most musical historicists are more practical and flexible. For this concert the hall lights stayed up, which is a nice touch, even if electrics are not as pretty as the candle-lit halls of days past. Unfortunately, and I assume unintended by the musicians, the audience did come and go in between the first several songs, which not only rudely made the musicians wait but disrupted the flow of the program, and one woman, having missed three or four songs, came clumping down the wood-floored aisle in high-heels making an incredible noise. More cheerfully, Mr Scholl had the audience join in on the refrain of Purcell’s Man is for the Woman Made, which, according to Mr Scholl, is what Purcell intended when he originally composed it, for light relief in the theatre. And it did provide some short refreshing relief among the quite serious music in this program.

It is a shame the group is only giving the one program because the instrumentalists played so well together it would have been nice to hear a whole concert of them alone. Ms Halperin played Round O warmly, with little ritardi in the interesting turns in the piece. Each time on returning to the main theme, she seemed to play as if returning safely home from a long trip, as the developments in-between were quite emotionally intense. In the suites as well, she played the runs in a very fluid, rolling way, with a strong sense of lyricism which isn’t always associated with the harpsichord. She played the adagio in the Handel suite with a strong pulse, creating a flow between the notes, even though slurs as on the piano aren’t possible on the harpsichord as the notes do not ring for very long. It is a shame she only played two of the movements.

Daniel Yeadon. Photo: Keith Saunders.

In the G minor Sonata, arranged for viola da gamba and harpsichord, Mr Yeadon, who played so beautifully in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Haydn’s L’anima del Filosofo last December, brought a sweet tone from his instrument, playing with attention to the subtlety in Handel’s music, and in this way combined beautifully with Ms Halperin’s harpsichord.

Mr Anderson played his own transcription of Handel’s music for Clay’s mechanical clocks on theorbo. Unfortunately he did not play the lute at this concert as advertised, but his fine theorbo and guitar playing almost made up for the disappointment. He gave the tunes a life of their own so that they sounded not like discrete tunes at all, but a sonata or perhaps a small theorbo suite. The tunes themselves seemed carefully chosen to fit together seamlessly as if movements of a larger piece. He plays with energy though with a mellow tone, so that the piece was not too sleepy (there is always a risk of a solo theorbo evoking too much a country town’s bookstore).

Mr Scholl chose a varied program of songs and adapted well to each piece, from the Orphic ode to music in Purcell’s Music for a While, to the love songs, the love of nature songs, the poignant Dido’s Lament, here even changing the gender of his character, though really not a big deal since music is androgynous anyway and the words do not specify gender, and ending the Purcell section with Man is for the Woman Made. His tone is very easy to listen to, quite sweet and subtle, restrained and clear in tone. O Solitude is an interesting poem, with a sensibility reminding me of some of Robert Graves’ love poems’, and Mr Scholl sang it with deep feeling, but perhaps didn’t do full justice to the ambivalence, the paradox of love expressed in the poem.

Tommie Andersson. Photo: Keith Saunders.

Mr Scholl introduced O Solitude, and the Handel Arcadia pieces with a spiel, which wasn’t so effective since it pulled one from the small pocket of the Baroque world the musicians created with their beautiful playing. Also he sounded a little cynical, suggesting the Arcadia cantatas were formulaic or repetitive. I think it’s understandable for an artist to want to delve into the same imagery and human problems over and over, to thoroughly explore them, to try to see the world in the best ways classical Europe saw it. Arguably, Arcadia is as rich a topic for artists as the Madonna and Child and Crucifixion which were painted and sung of so many times in the Renaissance. The two cantatas here are of some 15 Handel composed, one a week over the summer of 1708 for the Accademia degli Arcadi in Rome, a group of noblemen who met each Sunday to sing about Arcadia, sometimes in their gardens. They each even took a rustic Arcadian name. They are also very relevant today, I think, being in a way ancestors of today’s greens.

Introductory spiels notwithstanding, he sang the pieces beautifully, in Nel dolce tempo, nimbly singing both the shepherd and shepherdess with a small change in tone and moving about the stage. He also expressed the alteration in tone of Vendendo Amor from “in un folto bosco ombroso/ io prendea dolce riposa” to “io canta per amor/ ma più per rabbia,” though the instrumentalists’ sensitive accompaniment contributed to this fine expression too, Handel having carefully composed the coming in and out of the different voices. In fact, the contrast between these two small cantatas shows just how versatile Arcadia can be.

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