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The concert opened with the overture from Bach's Suite No 3, Alison Bury directing from the violin and playing standing up facing the players. This made for an interestingly period feel to the look of the performance as the concert platform started to resemble more one of those 18th century prints with a concert master directing an ensemble. For the rest of the concert the band interspersed the rest of the suite between Scholl's groups of arias. This made for a good linking thread running through the concert and gave the band a chance to show off, which it did brilliantly; the trumpets in particular relishing the opportunities that Bach gave them.
Scholl opened with Cesare's short opening aria from Giulio Cesare. This made for a short, bright opening which was perfect for its situation in the concert, though it would have been nice to hear a little more from the opera. Scholl followed this with Bertarido's Dove Sei, preceded by the long recitative from Rodelinda. If the Giulio Cesare aria sounded like a brisk warm up, Dove Sei showed us what Scholl can really do.
Castrati did far more than simply sing elaborately virtuosic music very well. One of Senesino's specialities was Messa di Voce where the singer does a gradual crescendo and decrescendo on a single note; this involves great control, a good sense of line and great simplicity. It was these virtues which Scholl brought to Dove Sei. His is not a richly plush voice and you would never mistake him for a vibrato-laden female alto. Wisely, in the large spaces of the Royal Festival Hall, he did not push his voice, concentrating on control and simple beauty of tone and line. This required the listener to re-tune their ears somewhat, the concert was not as loud as we might have expected, but when re-tuned our ears were repaid amply.
Scholl sang the Handel arias from memory, and gave a fully dramatic reading. He is a very visual and communicative singer, apparently incapable of staying still. But thinking back to his performance I always come back to the simple beauty of line and superb vocal control ... and the way his voice made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Copyright © 16 June 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK