Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Scholl sings Pergolesi @ Barbican Hall, London

31 January 2014

I once wrote that Andreas Scholl would be rapturously received for a recital of Hansard, and this concert was another demonstration of his drawing power; he sang in just two works during the evening, yet the hall was full to bursting – and rightly so, since not only did Scholl show that he has no peer in this repertoire, but the Academy of Ancient Music gave another demonstration of its pre-eminence in anything requiring thrilling deployment of pesky, hard-to-control ‘authentic’ instruments – and that’s just the players.

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater occupies the same position in the composer’s life as the Odes did in that of John Keats, who also died at the age of 26. Presented to an audience which knew its opera, the work is as much a drama as the Matthew Passion, with a similar style in terms of using seemingly brisk music to evoke deep anxiety and a forthrightness in asking us to share the most raw of emotions. The opening duet – described by Rousseau as “…the most perfect and touching duet to come from the pen of any composer” – requires not only confident attack but exquisite subtlety, qualities which Scholl possesses in abundance. The soprano Klara Ek managed to scale down her quite heroic tone and proved the ideal partner for the counter-tenor.

Vocal agility, exceptional breath control and poetic interpretation of individual words mark out Scholl’s performance in this music, especially in moments requiring dramatic emphasis, and it is a measure of the AAM’s standard that they gave him instrumental support to equal his singing. That same support was equally evident in Vivaldi’s setting of Stabat Mater, a very different work requiring the sustaining of a solemn, reflective mood throughout. There was some wonderful theorbo from Paula Chateauneuf, and of course singing of surpassing beauty.

A finely phrased performance of Vivaldi’s Salve Regina and two Concerti by Wassenaer rounded out the programme. If you don’t know the latter, he’s well worth exploring, since these are strikingly daring pieces requiring virtuoso playing and a sense of witty edge to the ensemble – thus making them ideal for the AAM. They provided the perfect contrast to Scholl’s reflective, sinuous lines, and of course the packed house loved it all.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk.

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Scholl sings Pergolesi @ Barbican Hall, London