Le Concert d’Astrée

Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV1043
Mass in B minor, BWV232 – Agnus Dei
Cantata, BWV199: Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut – Tief gebückt und voller Reue
Concerto for oboe d’amore in A, BWV1055Pergolesi
Stabat Mater

Stéphanie-Marie Degand & Stéphanie Paulet (violins)

Barbara Bonney (soprano)

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)

Patrick Beaugiraud (oboe d’amore)

Le Concert d’Astrée
Emmanuelle Haïm

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 10 December, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The evening started with the announcement that due to an accident Emmanuelle Haïm’s right arm was restricted in movement. The programme therefore had to be shortened: in the case of the cantata only one aria was performed. It should also be mentioned that, as if carrying an injury were not enough, Emmanuelle Haïm is heavily pregnant and she conducted entirely from a seated position. Despite lacking some of the poignancy that typifies Haïm’s leadership, the evening was never less than enjoyable.

The performance of Bach’s Concerto for two violins was, however, more than merely enjoyable. The orchestra’s leader and co-founder Stéphanie-Marie Degand is a virtuoso performer with a sense for both the turbulence of the outer movements and the sensuous lyricism of the Largo. As to be expected from Le Concert d’Astrée, the ‘Vivace’ of the first movement was taken literally, kicking the concert off in the liveliest manner possible. In the slow movement, the intertwining lines of the solo violins blossomed into a real symbiosis; Stéphanie Paulet was the perfect partner in such an intense musical conversation. Although not headlined ‘con brio’, the concerto came to a most stormy conclusion in the closing Allegro.

The two arias introduced the vocal soloists, both of the more full-blooded, operatic and vibrato-prone kind that Emmanuelle Haïm seems to favour. While Alice Coote’s constant though controlled vibrato in the ‘Agnus Dei’ resulted in an almost sensual reading that at times displayed a spiritual-like intensity, Barbara Bonney often vibrated into inaudibility; on the other hand, Alice Coote’s pianissimo in the second invocation was merely irritating.

Patrick Beaugiraud gave an impression of why Bach was so fond of the oboe d’amore; it has a warm sonority and is also capable of projecting a pensive, contemplative mood. Radiance and virtuosity in the first movement threw into stark contrast a seeming disagreement over the tempo in the Andante; Beaugiraud always seemed to be a bit hurried, finishing his phrases with a slight pressing gesture. The finale had all parties back at their fresh and lively best.

With the present soloists, Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” was always going to be a fairly operatic rendering, stretching the divergence of the mournful and meditative content from an essentially chivalrous score to its utter limits. Here Barbara Bonney seemed more in her element; with her silky, elegant timbre she gave a highly motivated reading of her arias, especially in ‘Vidit suum dulcem Natum’ and in the solo stanzas of the duet ‘Sancta Mater, istud agas’. Alice Coote blended in perfectly as a duet partner. Due perhaps to both singers’ vibrato, the last of the duets achieved a notion of ethereal reverie that few performers could evoke.

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