The English Concert/Bicket Sara Mingardo & Susan Gritton – Handel, Vivaldi & Pergolesi

Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op.6/6
Nisi Dominus
Stabat Mater

Sara Mingardo (contralto) & Susan Gritton (soprano)

The English Concert
Harry Bicket

Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 27 November, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Harry BicketAs an exercise in crisis management and musical professionalism, this performance by the English Concert under Harry Bicket could not have been bettered. Anna Caterina Antonacci was suddenly indisposed, leading to her last-minute replacement by Susan Gritton and a change of programme.

Instead of Porpora’s “Salve Regina” (which would have featured Antonacci), we had a fine rendition of Handel’s G minor Concerto grosso from his Opus 6 set. This was a good choice – highlighting the English Concert’s perfectly attuned ensemble work and its individual members’ technical skills. The dreamy Larghetto was especially captivating, with some remarkable playing from lead-violinist Catherine Martin.

Susan Gritton. Photograph: Tim CantrellFortunately, Sara Mingardo was still available to deliver a memorable “Nisi Dominus”. Although not one of Vivaldi’s most celebrated vocal works, it is a finely crafted motet which includes some striking theatrical and contemplative moments. Mingardo was well-equipped to deal with the variety of mood-changes across the nine short movements. She was particularly strong in the central ‘Cum dederit’, with a warm operatic expressiveness underpinned by firm vocal control, and in the gently understated ‘Gloria’.

Although shared rehearsal time for Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” must have been limited, Mingardo and Susan Gritton appeared to have hit it off from the start. Both exhibited a warm musical rapport, and their voices were well-matched. This made for reassuring listening during the duets, which account for the majority of the work’s twelve movements. Of the remaining solo numbers, Mingardo had the edge. Her treatment of the ‘Fac ut portem’ in particular was a revelation, with her astonishingly low register sinking well into tenor territory. The English Concert gave fine support, especially in the more dramatically-inspired movements, such as the ‘Fac, ut ardeat’. And all of this was tightly directed by Bicket while simultaneously playing the organ.

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