The English Concert

Coronation Anthem – My Heart is Inditing
Artaxerxes – Three Arias *
Concerto in D minor for two violins, BWV1043
Les élémens – ‘Le Cahos’
Gloria in D, RV589

Emma Bell (soprano)

Ailish Tynan (soprano)
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano)

Rachel Podger (violin)

Choir of The English Concert

The English Concert
Andrew Manze (violin)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 21 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This Prom, thoughtfully composed by Andrew Manze, comprised Handel’s most luxuriantly Coronation Anthem, written for King George II, three virtuoso arias from Thomas Arne’s opera Artaxerxes, Bach’s essay in affective counterpoint, the D minor two-violin concerto, Jean-Féry Rebel’s extraordinary confection, and Vivaldi’s setting of the Gloria, so familiar to modern day audiences as to be almost anathema.

The Arne arias reflected Handel’s influence, the Bach Vivaldi’s, and Rebel, sounding so extraordinarily different, served as the flame about which the other four composers fluttered. The programme was performed with flexible precision and an ardent desire to make audible the ultimately unknowable soundworld of these composers.

My Heart is Inditing was written for that part of the coronation ceremony in which the royal consort, Queen Caroline, was crowned. Hence its essentially ‘feminine’ character. This performance was soft-grained and gently vigorous, with Manze’s slender arms scooping the air as though to draw the sound up and outwards in a series of well-managed climaxes. Dotted rhythms and lively semiquaver passages spun their way towards a wonderful close, which was capped by a perfectly executed and thrilling trill on the trumpet. One wonders, though, given the enormous size of the chorus at the original 1727 ceremony, whether these chamber forces were painting an accurate picture of Handel’s intended effect – certainly given the Albert Hall’s propensity to swallow sound.

Thomas Arne’s opera seria Artaxerxes was an immediate hit when it was first performed at Covent Garden in 1762 – and hearing these show-stopping arias, with their tuneful attractiveness and vocal pyrotechnics, one can understand why. Soprano Emma Bell was more than equal to the task, her voice projecting the swells, runs and ornaments into the hall with ease. “Fly, Soft Ideas, Fly” was dispatched with rococo abandon; “Let not Rage, thy Bosom Firing” provided a more moderate interlude with some inventive ornamentation on each return of the refrain; while “The Soldier, Tir’d of War’s Alarms” provided a fiery conclusion to the set.

For Bach’s much-loved two-violin concerto, Rachel Podger, erstwhile leader of the English Concert and an outstanding soloist, joined Andrew Manze. This was a magical performance, having the intimacy and improvisatory eloquence of a jazz session. Vivid communication yielded a Vivace of highly charged and provocative episodes, a Largo of almost sensual beauty (liberal ornamentation enhancing expressiveness) and a final Allegro in which Manze’s sharp, rhythmic directions gathered both his partner and the orchestra into communal dance.

Then came a musical jolt in the form of the opening dissonant chord of Rebel’s ‘Chaos’ from Les élémens – the chord comprises the tones of the D minor scale played simultaneously. This is supposed to represent the chaos of the mixed elements; the remainder of the movement moves towards harmony as each of the elements is separated out. The piece received a fine, idiomatic performance from Manze and The English Concert, with particularly impressive contributions from piccolo players Rachel Brown and Christine Garratt (representing Air).

Vivaldi’s Gloria closed the evening, Rachel Podger returning to lead the orchestra. A wonderful performance ensued, with soloists Emma Bell, Ailish Tynan and Catherine Wyn-Rogers ably supported by some superb chorus work and obbligato contributions from Podger and cellist Jane Coe. Of the vocalists, Wyn-Rogers excelled, with her clear, steady mezzo projecting with ease; and her voice seemed especially suited to period-performance style. The ‘Agnus Dei’ was particularly impressive, with the cello obbligato and choral interjections complementing Wyn-Rogers’s declamations beautifully.

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 1 September at 2.30 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004

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