To complement the release of his Three Baroque Tenors CD, which examines the styles of three famous tenors from Handels own day, Ian Bostridge has joined with Europa Galante for a 14-date European tour.
On Friday they performed in Londons Barbican Hall in a concert that saw six arias and two encores performed alongside four orchestral pieces.
Unfortunately, in spite of the orchestras prowess and Bostridges exceptional understanding of the subject matter, something felt strangely amiss. I suspect that Bostridge was feeling under the weather, and purposely holding back in order to pace himself. His mastery of the music was revealed by the thought he was clearly putting into each aria, but the resulting sound didnt always sparkle.
His first aria, Lo so: con periglio from Antonio Caldaras Gioaz of 1726, was written for Francesco Borosini, the Italian tenor with a staggering vocal range. In it Bostridge demonstrated a great understanding of how the runs should be tackled, and intermittently drew himself up to his full height as if to capture Azarias own strength and resilience. In the second aria, La tiranna e avversa sorte from Vivaldis Arsilda, regina di Ponto of 1716 (written for Annibale Pio Fabri), he adopted a piercing, anguished gaze as he delivered some perfect phrasing. In both instances, however, the singing felt understated, hardly allowing the beauty of either the arias or the human voice to shine through.
In Softly rise, O southern breeze! from William Boyces Solomon of 1742, written for the Englishman John Beard, things improved a little. The aria as a whole demanded a lighter sound, which Bostridge seemed more able to deliver, although the occasional low passage felt a little underpowered. Ultimately, this piece did strike at our hearts but this was as much due to the orchestras playing and Bostridges obvious understanding of what needed to be portrayed than it was to his specific vocal output.
In the second half, Bostridge seemed more at ease in Scarlattis Se non sa qual vento from Marco Attilio Regolo and two Handel arias, although there was still a heavy sound to certain passages in Scorta siate a passi miei from Giulio Cesare. The two encores, however, were the only point at which we saw the singer at something close to his best. His performance of Scherza Infida was particularly striking, and (as he pointed out) it was appropriate for a tenor to sing it as Handel himself frequently transposed counter-tenor arias.
If, however, Bostridge was slightly below par, the same could not be said for Europa Galante, under the direction of Fabio Biondi, in its four orchestral pieces over the evening. Telemanns Ouverture quatre in F major was tightly controlled, though capable of bounding along with a breathtaking ease. Vivaldis Ercole sul Termodonte saw a precise rendering of dynamics, Corellis Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6 No. 4 was suitably exuberant and Handels Rodrigo (Suite) was nigh on perfect.
It should be emphasised that nothing in this concert was bad, and everything points to this simply being an off-day for Bostridge, which he could hardly have helped and did well to battle against. There was enough here to suggest that at any other concert on the tour Bostridge would have delivered everything we might have expected from a man with such a peerless understanding of these arias.
Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk