Opera + Classical Music Reviews

La Serenissima @ Wigmore Hall, London

31 December 2012

With a programme of music entitled ‘Venice by Night’, this concert by Baroque ensemble La Serenissima looked destined to be a serving of popular pieces from a New Year’s Eve musical menu. These fears were confirmed when soprano Mhairi Lawson stepped onto the stage holding a Venetian mask, singing an anonymous ditty entitled ‘Yes, I have a gondola’. Yet what emerged was a well-executed journey through the various musical genres that emerged from the city in the first half of the eighteenth century.

La Serenissima has built a strong reputation over the last few years with numerous recordings of Italian Baroque music, characterised by a commitment to authentic musical practice, a high degree of technical skill, and a passion for rediscovering previously lost or neglected works. These features were all on show at the Wigmore Hall, together with a good-humoured and intelligent commentary by Serenissima founder and violinist Adrian Chandler.

Works by Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni were to be expected. But instrumental and vocal pieces by their less well-known contemporaries Carlo Francesco Pollarolo, Francesco Maria Veracini, Antonio Lotti and Giovanni Porta were a pleasant surprise. All three lived or worked in Venice at one time or another, and Veracini and Porta also spent lengthy periods in London. Porta’s Sinfonia in D for trumpet, strings and continuo and Lotti’s motet Alma ride are particularly substantive works that deserve more exposure. Beautifully crafted in three movements, the trumpet concerto contained all the blazing passages one would expect, but also delicate, pensive moments that look forward to the writing of Haydn.

Mhairi Lawson gave a good account of Lotti’s motet, a work probably written for performance at the Ospedale degl’ Incurabili, one of Venice’s four foundling hospitals (Vivaldi worked for the more celebrated Ospedale della Pietà). Her fine, shining soprano proved ideal for this joyous expression of saintly devotion. Her voice was less adept at capturing the dramatic power of two of Vivaldi’s operatic arias – ‘Il fidarsi alla spene’ from L’Olimpiade and ‘D’ira e furor armato’ from Motezuma. This was not surprising, given that both arias were written for the virtuoso castrato Marianino Aspano. But Lawson’s vocal acrobatics and emotional intensity could not really be faulted, and both arias provided a fitting ending to what turned out to be an entertaining and informative evening.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk

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