They were established only last year but already the Retrospect Ensemble has made its mark in the increasingly crowded world of early music.Matthew Halls and his group have performed a number of notable performances at the Wigmore Hall this season, as well as elsewhere, and have also released a celebrated recording of Handel’s Parnasso in Festa
As well as all that, the Retrospect Ensemble have found time to collaborate with a newly formed Israeli baroque ensemble called Barrocade, and this concert performance of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen at the Wigmore Hall marked the project’s culmination. There had been concerns about anti-Israeli protests, like those that disrupted the Jerusalem Quartet’s Wigmore concert last month, but this evening’s performance passed without interruption.
The driving forces behind both of these young ensembles are the young musicians at their core, and the six vocal soloists here each showed promise. The Fairy Queen, an extravagant semi-opera, which opened on 2 May 1692, offers a good range of concise but dynamic and wonderfully imaginative arias that can be divided fairly equally across a cast; here, the score was presented in a slightly abridged form, so we missed the charming opening aria “Come, come, come let us leave the town”
A trio of sopranos offered a range of colour. Yeela Avital sang with great poise, especially during her Act Five duet with the violin; Amy Carson sang with charm, despite some slight intonation wobbles; and Claire Meghnagi, blessed with the gorgeous dawn aria, sounded especially bright and sure. Among the male vocalists, James Oldfield stood out for his thrillingly resonant bass-baritone. Ben Williamson’s countertenor has a pleasant timbre, although it made an alarming shift into the chest voice at times, and Greg Tassell’s otherwise nimble tenor seemed to tightened slightly as it moved up the stave but one could put this down to the yearning quality inherent in many of these arias.
Due to the ongoing transport disruption, Matthew Halls was unable to make the concert, which meant that the second harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon took on the role of leader. Already they were a small outfit, risking high exposure on period instruments; with one harpsichord down, the sound was just a little too thin, but one upshot was that we were able to fully appreciate the considerable talent and professionalism of each individual instrumentalist.