The Human Passions

RodolfoRichter-media-room-thumbnailTafelmusik’s opening concert of the season, The Human Passions, was structured around the idea that baroque composers use the soloist in a piece; instrumentalist or vocalist, to explore an emotion and that, in the baroque world, from this point of view, the human voice is just another instrument to be explored/exploited.  At least I think that’s more or less what Rodolfo Richter said in his introduction.

I’m not sure.  In many ways the overture that opened the concert, Veracini’s Ouverture no. 6 in G minor, was as passionate as anything that followed.  Shades of Purcell here perhaps and, who doesn’t spend a lot of time at baroque instrumental concerts, really enjoyed the chamber music like back and forth between the players. The balance of the instrumental part of the programme was made up of two concerti.  Vivaldi’s Concerto for bassoon in F Major, RV485, was played with terrific virtuosity by Dominic Teresi but what human emotion can one express on a baroque bassoon?  There’s something inherently comic about the sound that rather undermines the notion of emotional depth.  The violin, on the other hand, is perhaps as close to the human voice as an instrument gets but again  Rodolfo Richter’s account of his own arrangement of Bach’s Harpsichord concerto BWV 1052 for violin and orchestra (augmented wind section and all) was mainly notable for being highly virtuosic.  All those notes brilliantly rendered on the four strings of the violin couldn’t help but be impressive.

Interspersed with the instrumentals we got four arias (two Handel, two Vivaldi) by young lyric mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel making her Tafelmusik debut.  I wouldn’t say that these covered a particularly wide range of emotion either basically running the gamut from “depressed” through “fed up” to “incandescently angry”.  All were presented with all the repeats and judicious but fairly restrained ornamentation.  I wonder perhaps if that’s not too purist an approach.  Pleb that I am, if I have to listen to eight lines of text repeated for ten minutes I’d like to hear some real fireworks.  Lebel has a pleasing voice that’s quite well suited to the music.  It’s quite light and stronger in the upper register than the lower.  She can convey genuine emotion.  She ornaments tastefully (too tastefully?).  I’d like to see more of her in a stage role (I missed her Orphée with Opera Atelier due to illness).  It’s also, perhaps, a bit jarring to see excerpts from operatic trouser roles sung by a young woman in a very striking flame patterned dress (my companion was jealous) but it certainly worked for the last piece, Agitata infidu flatu from Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans.  I thought it was her most passionate and thrilling contribution and I could well see Holofernes losing his head over it.

S, I’m not entirely sure the “theme” really worked but the individual components of the programme were enjoyable enough.  There are three more performances at Trinity St. Paul’s between tonight and Sunday afternoon.

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