Florilegium & Emma Kirkby at RCM [Handel & Purcell]

Concerto grosso in G, Op.3/3
Cantata – Crudel tiranno amor
Concerto a Quattro in D minor
L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato – Sweet Bird
The Fairy Queen – Suite
Sweeter than roses
Music for a while
One charming night [instrumental version]
Chacony in G minor
Two-in-One Upon a Ground
Timon of Athens – Chaconne
The plaint
An evening hymn
The Fairy Queen – Suite

Emma Kirkby (soprano)

Ashley Solomon (transverse flute & director)

Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 27 May, 2009
Venue: Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London

The Royal College of Music has spent £5-million on its concert hall, re-named it after Amaryllis Fleming, and has launched an ambitious programme of performances by current students and professional musicians.

The anniversaries of the death of Handel (1759) and birth of Purcell (1659) provided the inspiration for a programme of instrumental and vocal works by both. The Handel was the most substantial part. Florilegium demonstrated why it is one of the outstanding ‘period’-instrument ensembles. The musicians’ rendition of Handel’s G major Concerto grosso was tightly controlled yet virtuosic. Although some scratchiness from the violins – later resolved – grated a little, the playing was warm and rhythmic, and Ashley Solomon’s dexterity on the transverse flute was astonishing. The same qualities re-appeared in Handel’s Concerto a Quattro, with its flashy parts for flute, violin and cello, the latter particularly expressive from Jennifer Morsches.

Emma Kirkby. Photograph: David Kornfeld/BISEmma Kirkby’s appeared for Handel’s “Crudel tiranno amor” and “Sweet Bird”. Her voice has thickened in recent years but its flexibility and warmth remain. These qualities were on show in the cantata, and in parts of the aria her voice was noticeably brighter. The dramatic duet between flute and soprano was especially engaging.

Kirkby’s vocal acrobatics carried on with works by Purcell. “Sweeter than Roses” sparkled, while “Music for a While” was perfectly articulated and quite haunting, with clear and precise accompaniment by James Johnstone on harpsichord. The two other songs, “The Plaint” and “An Evening Hymn” were pleasant enough.

Similarly, some of the instrumental offerings, such as One Charming Night and Two-in-One Upon a Ground were rather drab compared with the earlier glitz of Handel. Nevertheless, there was much to appreciate in the Chaconne from “Timon of Athens” and two suites from “The Fairy Queen”. With their instrumental variety, rhythms and rustic dance patterns, they better demonstrated why Purcell is the much admired master of early English baroque.

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