Beauty of Line
Andreas Scholl in London,
heard by ROBERT HUGILL
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's concert with Andreas Scholl on 11 June 2008 at the Royal Festival Hall, employed not one but two counter-tenors. Distinguished veteran counter-tenor James Bowman gave a pre-concert talk on the counter-tenor voice and then introduced each group of Scholl's arias from the concert platform. Bowman's introductions were witty and amusing whilst managing to include some useful nuggets of information though they had the effect of making him, in his own words, rather like Terry Wogan at the Eurovision Song Contest.
It is a measure of the way Scholl's popularity has expanded vastly from the hard core of baroque performance enthusiasts that the OAE could virtually fill the Royal Festival Hall with a programme of Baroque opera arias. Sniffy purists like me could have wished that the concert took place in the smaller, and more suitable, Queen Elizabeth Hall and that Bowman's contribution had been restricted to a pre-concert talk. But reality is different and Scholl's large following means that the bigger scale of event is inevitable. It is a tribute to Scholl's superbly disciplined music-making (and to Bowman's professionalism) that the event did not turn into a circus, but proved to be one of the most satisfying and memorable concerts that I have attended in a long time.
Scholl's selection of arias was designed to show the wide range of types of alto voice in use during the 18th century. His selection of arias encompassed those which Handel wrote for the alto castrato and an oratorio aria written for the counter-tenor Russell, an aria by Vivaldi for one of the female altos at the Pieta, and arias by written for a boy alto.
There was no conductor: the OAE was directed from the violin by its leader Alison Bury. This made for some very direct music making. With no conductor to mediate (or interfere) between singer and band, the results felt very vital and refreshingly lacking in the sort of interventionist conducting which can mar baroque performances.
Copyright © 16 June 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK