Harry Bicket

The English Concert's Alcina

Cal-performances-english-concert-karina-gauvin-julien-faugere* Notes * 
The English Concert, conducted by Maestro Harry Bicket, has been touring Händel's Alcina with a first-rate cast. Yesterday afternoon the group came to Cal Performances in Berkeley with the splendid soprano Karina Gauvin (pictured, photograph by Julien Faugere) in the title role.

The singing was uniformly wonderful, from bass Wojtek Gierlach's grave, authoritative Melisso to tenor Alek Shrader's pretty and appealing sound as Oronte. Shrader made the most of the concert version presented, and was able to convey humor without being over the top. The two mezzos, Paula Murrihy as Ruggiero and Elizabeth DeShong as Bradamante were nicely distinct. Murrihy has a light, sparkly tone, while DeShong's is almost baritonal, very dark and hardy. It was pretty amusing, given that Bradamante is a lady pretending to be a man and written for a contralto, and Ruggiero was originally played by castrato Giovanni Carestini. Murrihy sang "Verdi prati" in Act II particularly well.

Best of all were the sopranos, also sharply different from one another. Lucy Crowe made for an utterly charming Morgana, hapless sister of witch Alcina. Crowe's voice is truly brilliant, very pleasant on the ears, and her acting is endearing as well. Gauvin has a delicacy that works nicely for Baroque music, her pianissimi were exquisite. She doesn't have much vibrato and managed to fire things up when necessary, as with her Act III aria "Mi restano le lagrime."

The ensemble played neatly under Maestro Bicket's direction. The soli were all very strong, violinist Nadja Zwiener was excellent, as was cellist Joseph Crouch. The horns did were pretty darned good, only a tiny bit of fuzziness once, and I very much enjoyed how much Ursula Paludan Monberg danced to the music as she played. Also impressive was therobo Sergio Bucheli, who broke a string in Act III but managed to discreetly and calmly replace the string on stage.

* Tattling * 
Perhaps people have forgotten how to turn off their devices during the pandemic. There was ringing near me in the mezzanine twice in Act II from two different patrons. Mask compliance was high, there are no concessions at Cal Performances right now, so any refreshments one partook of during the 3 hour 45 minute performance had to be snuck in.

Andreas Scholl at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Andreas-scholl-credit-james-mcmillan-and-decca* Notes * 
The English Concert,
lead by Harry Bicket, played at Walt Disney Concert Hall last night as part of a tour that goes on to Chicago, Boston, Toronto, and New York. The program consisted of entirely Baroque music and started with Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber's Sonata No. 6 for trumpet, strings, and continuo. The trumpet soloist was Mark Bennett, who played the difficult instrument fairly accurately. The ensemble plays with emphatic (and undoubtedly informed) historicity. In any case, there was very little legato. The violist had a few harsh notes, but this was more textural than it was annoying.

After the Biber came several pieces by Henry Purcell. Countertenor Andreas Scholl (pictured above, photograph by James McMillan courtesy of Decca) sang "Sweeter than roses," "Music for a while," and "An evening hymn." The acoustic of Frank Gehry's building is much more flattering to Scholl's voice than Herbst Theatre or Zellerbach Hall. The overall effect was that of warmth and effortlessness. The ensemble went on to play scenes from Purcell's King Arthur, out of order, it seems, starting with the Chaccone. Scholl sang "O solitude, my sweetest choice," "What power art thou," and "Fairest isle." The percussiveness of "What power art thou" was striking.

Following the intermission, The English Concert played Georg Muffat's Passacaglia from Sonata V. The program returned to Purcell, with scenes from The Fairy Queen. This was interspersed with Scholl singing "One charming night" (from Act II of the aforementioned opera), the song "If music be the food of love," and "When I am laid in earth" (from Dido and Aeneas). The encore was "Music for a while."

* Tattling * 
The audience was the most attentive I have observed in any of the Music Center venues. There was some quiet whispering, but never when Scholl was singing. Scholl himself stopped his first piece for the latecomers getting in their seats. He was very good-natured about waiting.

A watch alarm sounded at 10pm, during the encore.

David Daniels and The English Concert

David-daniels * Notes * 
Countertenor David Daniels is currently on tour with the English Concert, to promote his latest recording with that ensemble. The first half of evening was devoted to Bach, starting off with Harry Bicket leading the English Concert in the Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major. They played primly, but not dispassionately. Daniels sang a potpourri of arias from Cantatas 170 and 82, Mass in B minor, and Saint Matthew Passion. In the middle of this was a break in which the ensemble played the Sinfonia from Cantata 42, the lack of unison in the woodwinds for their first entrance was distracting. Daniels has a pretty voice, with good volume, though at times his voice does have a cooing quality that is a bit columbid.

The second half of the performance featured Händel, and the English Concert played his Concerto Grosso No. 11 very beautifully. Daniels sang arias from Radamisto, Partenope, and Orlando. He seemed more engaged with these opera numbers than with the Bach. His encore, "Qual nave smarrita," from Radamisto, was lovely. One imagines he must be very good in this role.

* Tattling * 
There was a fair amount of whispering and talking during the music, but no electronic noise.