It can be a challenge to make Baroque music (music of the 1600s/1700s) come alive. It always sounds beautiful, but in the hands of the wrong musicians, it might not necessarily sound exciting. The Academy of Ancient Music, led by Richard Egarr, has no such worries – they use period instruments to recreate the early sound, and then play with as much oomph as possible. And when your soprano has no less than three dress changes during the concert, when does anyone have time to get bored? (The red one was especially awesome, Sara!)
The program was a nice mix of obscure and famous composers. The first half of the program had a loose Shakespeare theme, beginning with an orchestral suite (a collection of orchestral works) by Matthew Locke, which he had composed as a sort of soundtrack for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As well as some rustic dances, it also contains, according to Egarr, the first piece of music to actually have written in the score, instructions on the speed and volume of the music. (Casual listeners may not be aware, but most Baroque music does not contain a lot of detail about how to play it, which is why the same piece in the hands of three different Baroque orchestras leads to three completely different listening experiences.) From The Tempest, the concert moved to the rather more light and fluffy (but always crowd-pleasing) music from The Fairy Queen, which is a loose rip-off of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with music composed by Henry Purcell. For this, the Academy was joined by Sara Macliver, who added her stunningly light, beautiful soprano voice to the proceedings.
But the real beauty and joy came in the second half, when the program was finished with a selection of Handel arias. They not only showcased Sara’s voice, they also gave the soloists in the orchestra a chance to shine. Vo’ far guerra contained a furious harpsichord solo in the middle, Ah! Spietato had a solo oboe delicately weaving around the soprano line, and Let the Bright Seraphim – Sara’s self-confessed “party piece” – featured the arrival of the awesome-sounding baroque trumpet (played by the even more awesomely-named David Blackadder).
That would have been a highlight enough to go out on, but when the artists performed the encore, Eternal Source of Light Divine by Handel, one of the most beautiful things he ever wrote, with the voice and trumpet lines melding together so well, it was almost hard to tell where voice ended and instrument began. All in all, it was a beautiful way to spend a Monday evening.
As an added bonus, Musica Viva kindly invited the public via Twitter to come to a bar around the corner and hang round with the musicians afterwards. After such an intimate performance of music, it was somehow magical to see a room filled with musicians, singers, Musica Viva staff and other assorted Baroque groupies partying the night away. It really broke down the wall between audience and musicians and I hope the initiative continues in 2014.
Find out more about the Academy of Ancient Music
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