Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Andreas Scholl @ Barbican Hall, London

29 March 2009

Any singer wishing to learn a thing or two about engaging an audience should witness Andreas Scholl in action.

In these performances of three Vivaldi motets with the kammerorchesterbasel, he more than proved that he doesn’t triumph on stage simply by being one of the world’s greatest countertenors.

As Scholl strode confidently onto the platform to perform Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus, it was clear that he felt at ease and could concentrate his mind solely on the music.

The secret to Scholl’s performance was that in each movement he adopted a physical stance that worked both visually and vocally with the music he was singing. So as he squatted low for the opening Nisi Dominus, not only did this make him appear genuinely overcome, it also helped him to put sufficient power behind the long notes and the trills.

In direct contrast he rose high at the start of the Beatus vir to deliver this merrier movement. Throughout, however, Scholl maintained a beautifully sweet sound, and his voice in the Cum dederit and Sicut sagittae felt so pure that it possessed a haunting quality.

The sorrowful subject matter of Vivaldi’s Introduzione al Miserere, and Stabat mater, presented less opportunities for Scholl to vary the mood in his singing, but as he appeared to bear his soul to the audience his angelic voice was punctuated with anguish. He also succeeded in the latter motet in making the Pro peccatis suae gentis slightly more playful, whilst the Eia mater, fans amoris featured some appropriate ‘wailing’.

The kammerorchesterbasel supported him ably throughout and came into its own when playing two works by Locatelli: the Concerto grosso in E flat major, which featured some fine solo violin playing from the orchestra’s concertmaster, Julia Schrder, and the brilliantly morose Sinfonia (funebre) in F minor.

But the evening belonged to Scholl because whether he was clinging to his music stand in the most intense of passages, glancing around the hall as the mood lightened, or simply singing ‘Amen’ with enough roughness to emphasise the finality of the statement, he never ceased to be captivating.

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