Jennifer Larmore & Ensemble Matheus

Giulio Cesare – Presti omai; Empio diro tu sei
La fida ninfa, RV714 – Sinfonia
Giulio Cesare – Dall’ondoso periglio … Aure, deh, per pietà
Concerto in E minor for Flute and Recorder
Orlando furioso – Oh ingiusti numi … Anderò, chiamerò
Orphée et Eurydice – J’ai perdu mon Eurydice
Ariodante – Dopo notte
Concerto in D for Two Violins, RV513
Rinaldo – Venti turbini

Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano)

Jean-Marc Goujon (flute)
Luis Beduschi (recorder)
Laurence Paugam (violin)

Ensemble Matheus
Jean-Christophe Spinosi (violin)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 7 February, 2008
Venue: Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Jennifer LarmoreAmerican mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore teamed up with the French Ensemble Matheus, led by conductor-violinist Jean-Christophe Spinosi, for an evening of baroque music. The programme included opera arias by Handel, Vivaldi and Gluck, and instrumental music by Vivaldi and Telemann. The latter works were not merely fillers between Larmore’s vocal exertions, but rather were pieces of considerable musical interest that more than held their own as partners in the evening’s proceedings.

Larmore is best known for her performances of baroque and bel canto roles (including her signature-role of Rosina in “Il barbiere di Siviglia”). At Metropolitan Opera she has portrayed three Rossini heroines and sung the title role in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare”, and also has appeared in operas by Offenbach, Johann Strauss and Humperdinck as well as in the premiere production of Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy”. She is an experienced recitalist and has also performed with many major orchestras and leading conductors.

This concert marked the U.S. debut of Ensemble Matheus, which is currently in residence at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and which performs frequently at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées there. Earlier this season, the orchestra performed Handel’s “Alcina” in Paris, Aix en Provence and Vienna, and this spring it will tour Europe with Vivaldi’s “La fida ninfa”.

In the first part of the programme Larmore sang three arias from Handel’s “Giulio Cesare”. The first two were from the beginning of the opera: the brief but dramatic ‘Presti omai’, Caesar’s triumphal arrival in Egypt; and the florid da capo aria ‘Empio, dirò, tu sei’ in which Caesar denounces Ptolemey’s barbarity. Larmore sang with masterful technique, her voice warming as she went along.

The first orchestral segment of the evening was a spirited performance of the Sinfonia from Vivaldi’s “La fida ninfa”. Spinosi missed no opportunity to show off the virtuosity of his musicians. The spiccato bowing of the violas created a nice effect in the opening Allegro, as did an exquisitely drawn out final cadence in the dance-like Andante. Mastery of dynamic control was on display in the concluding Allegro molto – first a very long and gradual crescendo, then alternating loud and soft passages before the vigorous ending.

The third “Giulio Cesare” aria was from the opera’s third act, when Caesar is washed ashore after escaping – with Cleopatra’s aid – an assassination attempt. In the recitative ‘Dall’ondoso periglio’ Larmore expressively conveyed Caesar’s thankfulness for his survival and his realization that he was alone and unaided by his Roman legions. In the ensuing aria, ‘Aure, deh, per pietà’, Larmore, her voice now blooming nicely, captured the hero’s sadness and hope that the breezes would blow him toward his love. In the B section of the aria, however, in sharp contrast with those gentle thoughts, Larmore portrayed dramatically Caesar’s horror at the battlefield carnage.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)The longest piece in the first half of the programme was Telemann’s E minor Concerto for Flute and Recorder, an unusual combination that proved to be quite delightful. Spinosi conducted whilst playing his violin, generally joining the ripieno, but also contributing some solo playing – most notably an ornamented eingang leading into the third movement. Jean-Marc Goujon and Luis Beduschi traded thematic material in echo-like fashion in the opening Largo, and then in the Allegro, to a basso continuo accompaniment, showed off their virtuosity in florid runs, sometimes sequentially and sometimes simultaneously. In the third movement, the strings played a pizzicato accompaniment to a recorder solo that was soon turned into a recorder-flute duet. The soloists then reversed roles, with the recorder joining a florid flute solo. A sweetly played passage on the strings led into the concluding Presto, in which folk tunes became increasingly dominant, with the entire orchestra stamping their feet rhythmically at the finish.

Larmore brought the first half of the evening to a stirring conclusion with a dramatic and forceful rendition of the recitative and aria ‘Oh ingiusti numi … Anderò, chiamerò dal profondo’ from Vivaldi’s “Orlando furioso”, depicting the vengeful fury of the sorceress Alcina.

After the interval, Larmore returned with arias by Gluck and Handel. The first, ‘J’ai perdu mon Eurydice’ from “Orphée et Eurydice” was at once familiar and unfamiliar, being Gluck’s French revision of the famous ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ from the opera’s original Italian-language incarnation as “Orfeo ed Euridice”. Although it was sung and played quite affectingly, it seemed more of a novelty than a revelation. Next was the joyful ‘Dopo notte’ from Handel’s “Ariodante”, a highly ornamented da capo aria in which Larmore demonstrated beauty of voice and secure technique both in the A section’s rapid passagework and in the contrasting B section.

Spinosi teamed with concertmaster Laurence Paugam in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins. The performance featured spectacular solo work as well as engaging melodic and contrapuntal ritornello passages. The highlight was the extended cadenza in the concluding Allegro, in which the soloists engaged one another in what seemed like a cross between a competition and a love-affair.

Larmore and the ensemble brought the scheduled programme to a close with ‘Venti turbine’ from Handel’s “Rinaldo”, a da capo aria that featured Spinosi’s solo violin and Antoine Pecqueur’s brilliant bassoon obbligato. They then offered as an encore a beautifully articulated performance of ‘Ombra mai fu’ from Handel’s “Xerxes”.

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