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St John's Smith Square, Wallace Collection & Westminster Abbey 10, 12 & 13 June 2004

Choral Evensong Westminster Abbey
The Choir of Westminster Abbey & St James's Baroque/ James O'Donnell director Andrew Reid organ
Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Concert pour quatre parties, H545 Ouverture pour le sacre
d'un évêque, H536 Motet pour la seconde fois que le Saint Sacrement vient au mesme reposoir, H372 Ouverture pour l'église, H524; attrib. Dietrich Buxtehude Magnificat; Heinrich Schütz Nunc dimittis

Orazio Vecchi
(1597) staged by Peter Wilson
Masques and Madrigals by Andrea Gabrieli and Giovanni Croce
I FAGIOLINI/ Robert Hollingworth director

Handel Acis and Galatea
Sophie Daneman soprano/Galatea Paul Agnew tenor/Acis
James Gilchrist tenor/Damon Alan Ewing bass /Polyphemus

François Couperin, Jean-Henri D'Anglebert
and Antoine Forqueray

Mitzi Meyerson (harpsichord) at Wallace Collection 13 June
BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show Concert

An interesting and diverse sampling of this year's annual festival in London, in which the airline generously sponsors visitors from abroad, including this year the crack baroque orchestra from Freiburg.

Attending the Westminster Abbey evensong was a strange experience for a critic; the Festival programme was not available there and few if any of the congregation walked across to the concert at St John's afterwards. The choir is a closed one and, seated in the transepts, we could not see choir, instrumental ensemble or the priest. The reverberation tended to generalise the music; I doubt if many would have departed thinking to explore Charpentier, whose death in 1704 was being marked. The solos taken by boys and men of the choir were less accomplished than expected from a major cathedral. The organist Andrew Reid let rip occasionally when he had a chance and made a grand noise.

Used to hearing liturgical music more often on CD, the Abbey was not a good situation to address Charpentier's importance; is this the sound in which the motets etc were heard originally in France? Certainly it contrasted totally with the marvellous acoustics (and sight lines) of the baroque churches in Germany where we had recently attended the Musica Sacra International Festival at Marktoberdorf).

Orazio Vecchio L'Amfiparnaso

I Fagiolini has been touring its Orazio Vecchio staging for some years; we had seen it in Lucerne and recently at Trinity School of Music in Greenwich, where it went particularly well: * - - Most spectacular of all was I Fagiolini, who specialise in Italian renaissance music - - a morning selection of The Music of Theatre, their staged productions with masks, aimed to make Venetian madrigal comedies by Bianchieri & Vecchi accessible to modern audiences. Even for Italians, the Venetian dialect of the time is unintelligible, so our pleasure was enhanced by witty, scurrilous introductions written by Timothy Knapman. Developed over four years, this is a brilliant, completely original show, which should be captured on DVD - - (October 2002) http://classicalsource.com/db_control/db_features.php?id=1013

is emphatically not an opera; the various commedia dell'arte characters are depicted in a series of madrigals, and the composer gave express instructions that it was to be heard only. But the jokes in Venetian dialect would be incomprehensible so I Fagiolini has commissioned translations and introductions to place each scene and, following Banchieri's suggestion, I Fagiolini's versatile singers double as masked mimes. The whole show is great fun, underpinned by some delicious music.

St John's was a rather solemn venue for this fripperie, and I found it necessary to move near the front for better audibility and balance. Kit Hesketh-Harvey's narration was over-miked.

I Fagiolini
took up my own suggestion* above, and L'Amfiparnaso is now available on a new Chandos DVD, made at Dartington Hall [Chandos Chaconne CHDVD 5029].

I was a little troubled by their sheer brilliance and striving to impress in Acis and Galate, Handel's first opera, given in concert format without any gestures towards 'semi-staging', which can be so satisfactory. Their playing was disciplined and immaculate, the oboes and solo recorder memorable. But there was a tendency to try to ensure that every phrase was exciting and expressive, also in Paul Agnew's account of Acis. The part lies rather low for him, and he did not give pleasure as recently in Rameau on DVD. The other tenor did not hold a good line, high notes suddenly burst out, not always appropriately. Sophie Daneman was a little colourless at first, but her lovely voice flowered in the sad music of the more interesting second act. Alan Ewing looked somewhat slimline as the monster Polyphemus, but his bass is impressive andunder good control for the contrasts and florid passages required (the sopranino recorder was rather masked by the violins in O ruddier than the cherry).

The capacity audience was obviously well pleased. We found ourselves thinking about the longueurs imposed by the repetitious music, tunes and phrases repeated so many times that they are drummed into your brain for ever and one performance is enough to make you think you 'know' it. We have a resistance to da capo arias, and extra ornamentation did not greatly help. My thoughts indeed strayed to ponder whether there is so much difference between this convention and those of pop songs, with their short ideas repeated for similar intended effect. And redundant repetition is experienced everywhere as a part of contemporary life; think about all those recorded announcements on tube trains and stations which are only relevant for a few 'customers'....

Unquestionably, the best of our four Lufthanza events was the American harpsichordist, Mitzi Meyerson's recital at Wallace Collection. There was a problem at first, the same that has forced Wimbledon to re-seat its Centre Court! The little golden chairs brought in for musical events there were crowded so closely that an ample neighbour obliged me sit across two of them, until a latecomer of similar ilk had to be accommodated, squashing me tight! After D'Anglebert, I fled to unoccupied reserved seats, and found three of them in the front row!

Blissful to watch close by this fine performer, her posture relaxed, movements economical and flexible, the complex ornaments thrown off with complete ease and insouicance. This was an hour of sheer delight, which had the audience hanging on her every phrase of Couperin, notes inegales natural and unmannered, rubato akin to a Pachmann in Chopin, with rallentandos which in other hands might seem excessive. To end, the most brilliant of the music were Forqueray senior's viol pieces, transcribed by his son, and, to restore calm another lovely D'Anglebert prelude.

This recital can be heard on BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show Concert next Saturday, without the repetitions of Lucie Skeaping's charming introductions which we all heard patiently after the recital, to ensure that not a fluffed phrase escapes over the air waves! Mitzi Meyerson has the CD release of four Couperin suites due this summer (Glossa) and meanwhile, in this favourite genre of mine, there are the five Forqueray suites on MD&G Records 6051101.