Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Florilegium @ Wigmore Hall, London

9 March 2008

Since Florilegium formed in 1991, they have earned a distinguished place amongst an ever-increasing number of early music ensembles. Particular attention has been given to their Bolivian Baroque recordings, which combine music written by missionary composers with that of native South Americans, but at this Wigmore Hall concert they revelled in the familiar soundscape of 18th Century Europe, with chamber works from Telemann, Handel, and a trio of Bachs.

Directed for the most part by flautist and Artistic Director Ashley Solomon, the group performed a handful of pieces on their own but otherwise faded magnanimously into an accompanying role whilst exciting young soprano Lucy Crowe enjoyed the limelight.

We began with the overture and conclusion from Part 1 of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Tafelmusik, a piece that involves a variety of delicate French mannerisms whilst very much retaining the composer’s own hallmark. The period instruments lent a pleasant scratchiness to the string textures and a velvety warmth to the wind section, which was further flattered by the superb acoustics. Florilegium’s sensitive performance highlighted, above all, the elaborate chattering of flutes and their relationship of echoes and responses with the violins.

These two Telemann sections were successfully spliced with Handel’s cantata Crudel tiranno amor HWV 97, a piece that was first performed at a benefit concert for Margherita Durastante. Crowe matched her striking stage presence resplendent in an aquamarine mermaid dress with vocals of liquid beauty, and her account of each recitative and aria was made with spine-tingling precision. She has already proved herself a consummate Handelian as Poppea in ENO’s Agrippina and one senses from recent work that this is where her aspirations lie.

Posterity has not served Johann Bernhard Bach well, but judging from his Overture in D, which kicked off the second half, what little work survives is of merit. The piece softens through the course of its movements, from the self-explanatory ‘Marche’ to a pretty and ponderous ‘Air’ (comparable to parts of Antoine Forqueray’s ‘Jupiter’ divertissements), then a light ‘La Joye’ and a conclusive ‘Caprice’, which ends with a deliciously rich, almost grinding, chord. Next came a nod to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, freethinker and bad-boy according to Brachvogel’s biography, with a performance of his Sinfonia in D Minor (Adagio and Fugue) Falck 65. And then to Bach pre. Johann Sebastian’s secular cantata, Non sa che sia dolore BWV209, is about as operatic as he got, and the performers communicated well the subtle progress from soft lament in the first recitative to the themes of hope and acceptance in the final aria.

As if to confirm her affinity with Handel’s work, Crowe returned with Florilegium to encore with Lascia ch’io Pianga from Rinaldo. It was a thrilling finale: emotion teetered on the edge of self-indulgence as it should in this piece and its heady intensity translated into animated gesticulation. Crowe has roles as Nanetta in Falstaff and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier lined up, but she’s a Cleopatra waiting to break free.

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Florilegium @ Wigmore Hall, London