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S & H Concert Review

Handel Gala Concert: The King’s Consort, Wigmore Hall, Thursday April 10th 2003. (ME)


‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ was the encore, and the casual concert-goer, if such beings exist, might be forgiven for wondering how many goodbyes William Lyne is going to be saying this year – his ‘final’ one supposedly takes place on May 10th with the ‘Gala to end all Galas’ but one can safely assume that Bill won’t turn his back on ’36 Wigmore West One’ after the final speeches on that momentous day. Tonight was the turn of the Handelians to bid him a musical farewell, and it was as affectionately conveyed as it had been sensitively planned.

Both The King’s Consort and the team of soloists are Wigmore regulars, and the singers provided a pleasing balance between the very experienced and the recently emerged, with an understandable bias towards the former. James Bowman has been singing here for around thirty years, and the voice is not – cannot be – as mellifluous as once it was, but he still has a rare ability to engage one’s attention with the intensity and dramatic understanding of his interpretations. His was the first vocal solo, and ‘As with rosy steps the morn advancing’ was as beautifully sung as I have heard it, giving a vivid portrayal of the grandeur of the advancing dawn which Handel so lovingly delineates. We continued with ‘Theodora’ for the next two pieces: sadly, Lynne Dawson was not quite up to the vocal challenges of ‘With darkness deep,’ but Carolyn Sampson gave a wonderfully fresh, elegantly phrased account of ‘O, that I on wings could rise.’

Bowman again took centre stage for one of the great ‘Hunting Horn’ arias, ‘Va tacito e nascosto’ from ‘Giulio Cesare,’ an interesting choice for him, and one which took me back to his fabulous ENO Ptolemy alongside Janet Baker’s Caesar. Again, the voice was not quite up to every demand made upon it, but the interpretation was fascinatingly edgy and driven. The very challenging horn part was brilliantly played (the programme did not make it clear whether the major solo was taken by Andrew Clark or Martin Lawrence) – Bowman cannot be an easy singer to ‘accompany,’ but the playing was more than a match for him.

The first part of the concert closed with a poignant, tenderly shaped account of ‘Dull delay, in piercing anguish’ from Michael Chance, and a superbly sung ‘Mi lusinga il dolce affetto’ from Ann Murray: I have not heard her sing Ruggiero on stage (although I have heard her in virtually all her other roles) but this brief extract showed how ideally she has the measure of these parts – nothing could be faulted, from the italianitá of the diction to the expressive quality of the tone and the finely suggested detail in the characterization.

The overture to ‘Serse’ was a slightly perplexing beginning to the second half; maybe it’s just me but I can never hear it without expecting ‘Frondi tenere e belle…’ although it was played with plenty of spirit. Lynne Dawson then gave an affecting account of Cleopatra’s aria ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ although I felt once more that she was not at her best – maybe a rough patch vocally, or a cold. The highlights of the evening were Bowman and Sampson in ‘Welcome as the dawn of day’ and Murray’s ‘Verdi prati.’ The former was absolutely delectable, the two singers weaving in and out of the vocal lines with a real sense of enjoyment, and the latter another testament to how the art of this great mezzo has matured without tarnish, Handel’s mesmerizingly beautiful melody traced with such loving skill and such exact attention to language. The closing trio ‘Consolati, o bella’ was not quite a match for this, but it still served to remind us of the wondrous variety of this music, and of how fortunate we are to have been able to hear it so often in these perfect surroundings.


Melanie Eskenazi



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