An Afternoon with a Lovely Baroque Divertissement

CanadaCanada Handel, Vivaldi, Bernier and Hotteterre: Lydia Brotherton (soprano), Jeffrey Cohan (baroque flute), Stephen Stubbs (baroque guitar and lute), Ryerson United Church, Vancouver, BC, 11.1.2015 (GN)

Handel: “Meine Seele hort im Sehen” and “Singe Seele, Gott zum Preise” (from Nine German Arias)
Vivaldi: “All’ombre di sospetto”
Bernier: “Le Triomphe d’amour” (from Cantates Francoises ou Musique de Chambre)
Hotteterre: “L’autre jour ma Cloris” from Airs et brunettes (1721)

As a reviewer, I do so much trudging around to review events, week in and week out, that sometimes I wish that a concert would come to me. Well this time it did: a late afternoon baroque concert at Ryerson United Church—the initial Vancouver concert of the Salish Seas Early Music Festival—and only footsteps from my residence. Featuring flutist Jeffrey Cohan (also the concert’s organizer), young soprano Lydia Brotherton, and lutenist Stephen Stubbs, the afternoon turned out to be a remarkably intimate and refreshing experience, with cantatas by Bernier and Vivaldi, two of Handel’s Nine German Arias, and a delicious piece from Jacques Hotteterre in between.

There are many questions of instrumentation connected with these early 18th-century pieces, but I found the substitutions—flute for viol and a baroque guitar mainly as continuo—more than acceptable. There were certainly no questions of balance: Brotherton’s lovely and flexible voice fit particularly well with the selfless mastery of her two experienced compatriots. And I would not have expected otherwise. Cohan is an acknowledged magician of the flute, while in early music Stubbs has led by example for three decades, co-founding the Boston Early Music Festival and, more recently, pioneering Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks. He has already appeared on two occasions for Early Music Vancouver this past fall, performing Monteverdi and Bach. Brotherton has performed and recorded with Boston Early Music, was a member of Sequentia, and now concentrates her efforts in Berlin.

The two Handel arias were rejuvenating, and the soprano brought a particularly fresh radiance to them. Perhaps they were not as supremely controlled and sculpted as the soprano who last did these here—Dorothee Mields—but there was joy and love aplenty, and an irresistible sense of innocence and spontaneity. Brotherton’s voice is very clean, with considerable mobility and an obvious strength on top, and she is capable of exuding a nice range of texture and feeling, including sensual charm.

I perhaps liked the two cantatas even more. Brotherton does have a buoyant dramatic sense, and while she might be a little over-eager at times, she is quite compelling in her ability to maintain the length and shape of the dramatic line. The recitatives were certainly emotional, as was immediately apparent in the Vivaldi. The Bernier cantata is the bigger work and let me acknowledge, first off, just how well Cohan and Stubbs’ underpinning brought out the variety and motion. Brotherton carried a dramatic involvement throughout, and the instrumentalists often provided just the right type of subtle contrast. Again, I was taken by the soprano’s genuineness and spontaneity and how many little things were done well: the wonderful sharpness of the dramatic projections, the lovely shape and roundness of the lyrical line, the control of dynamics, and the poise. I can see only the brightest of futures for this young singer.

The little ‘air’ for flute and baroque guitar by Hotteterre was involving. Jeffrey Cohan has quickness and dynamic range, a keen control of accents, and mastery at floating the soft limpid phrase, so that the combination with Stubbs’ structural solidity and insight was pretty special indeed.

There should be more late afternoon concerts of this type. They are such a refreshing ‘time out’ from one’s busy schedule, especially when they involve artistry like this.

Geoffrey Newman


Previously published in a slightly different form on

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