Thursday, October 14, 2010

English Concert at the Library of Congress

You know what? People who badmouth the federal government can suck it. Because: A) Social Security, B) volcano monitoring, and C) last night the Library of Congress hooked up a killer free show with the English Concert, led by Harry Bicket and ft. Rachel Podger and Alice Coote.

The chamber selections--Vivaldi's Trio Sonata in D minor ("La Follia"), Violin Concerto in D Major ("Il Gross Mogul"), and Cello Concerto in C minor--were stunning, totally in love with the dancing rhythms of these pieces and the glory of the sound of the solo string instrument.

Can we talk about Rachel Podger for a sec? Save for the Ionarts notice that got me interested, I didn't know her before but am now mildly obsessed. The woman is a completely sensational performer--the audience was clearly ill-prepared for the disarming immediacy and personality she brings to this music and applauded with abandon. Part of it is surely how she works that baroque violin--those modern instruments make Vivaldi all FM smoothness, but this sound is unprocessed, not afraid of hitting a few speedbumps, and very, very direct and exciting.

Jonathan Marson, soloist for the cello piece was also splendid. Podger, Marson and the band clearly relish Vivaldi's mastery in building unbearable tension; and, when this group finally breaks that tension, like in the lush treatments of the "free-jam" sections in the trio, the release is overpowering.

Coote, who I've never heard live before but enjoyed in the Met Hansel n' Gretel bcast, was probably least effective in Monteverdi's "Lamento d'Arianna". The content was interesting--the only surviving fragment of Monteverdi's opera on the Ariadne story--but there was maybe a little too much OPERA going on for the material at hand. A selection of songs by John Dowland, accompanied by William Carter on lute, were beautifully read, perfectly pitched to illuminate the emotional resonance of the poems. The Handel selection, an oratorio on the Lucrezia story, is a small masterpiece, culminating in a spectacular sequence on Lucrezia's suicide. The full splendor of Coote's rich mezzo was most on display here and made for a powerful climax. Put on a copy of this and listen for the incredible passage where Lucrezia talks about the knife in her breast and her melodic line undergoes this disintegration at once painful and sensual--Coote was on fire. The EC band throughout was a dream of sensitive, urgent Handel playing--must have the Messiah they did under Pinnock in the late 90s.

Check Downey's review here.

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