English Concert Play Varied Programme of Purcell and Handel

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Purcell, Handel: Sophie Bevan (soprano), Katharina Spreckeisen (oboe), The English Concert / Harry Bicket (director), Chipping Campden Music Festival, St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, 22.5.2015. (RJ)

Purcell: Sonata in 4 parts
Suite from Abdelazer, Z570
If Music be the Food of Love
Oh Fair Cedaria
The Plaint

Handel: Oboe Concerto No 3 in G minor, HWV 287
Trio Sonata in F, Op 2
Silete Venti, HWV 242


As I glanced though the names of the members of this august period ensemble, I wondered whether its title was appropriate. It boasts among its players a theorbo player from the USA, a bassoonist with is distinctly Italian sounding name and a violist, so I understand, from the Spanish Royal Family. However, such random thoughts were speedily dismisssed from my mind as four of the musicians and Harry Picket launched into Purcell’s Sonata in 4 parts with its felicitous blend of French, Italian and English influiences, unusual dissonances and frequent changes of direction.

When the enlarged ensemble moved on to the Suite from Abdelazer, the incidental music he wrote for Mrs Aphra Behn’s stage work (also known as The Moor’s Revenge) I was irritated to find it interrupted by arias which had no connection with the play. It would have been helpful if the programme notes had included a brief plot of Abdelazer indicating where each of the nine pieces would have been played in order to gauge the appropriateness of the music to the situation. Alas, this did not happen, and some members of the audience looked bemused when Sophie Bevan came on stage to sing each of her arias which were listed separately in the programme. It was not at all clear whether her first aria was Lucinda is bewitching fair from Abdelnazer or If music be the food of love. Moreover, her diction did not help comprehension, and one longed for the bell-like clarity of an Emma Kirkby. However, by the final aria most people had tumbled to the fact that this was The Plaint from The Fairy Queen – an aria which bears comparison with Dido’s Lament, such was its dramatic power, and oboist Katharina Spreckeisen’s sublime obbligato playing added greatly to the emotional power of the work.

The second half was a much more satisfactory affair, with Katharina Spreckeisen distinguishing herself again in Handel’s Oboe Concerto No 3, which broke new ground in the early 1700s. The Allegro was full of infectious high spirits with some impeccaby executed ornamentation, and the splendid melody of the Largo tugged at the heart strings. The finale was taken at quite a lick but this presented no problems for the fully engaged Miss Spreckeisen.

Handel’s Fourth Trio Sonata had the same instrumental line-up as the Purcell sonata heard earlier and was full of delights, first violin Catherine Martin being particularly deserving of praise. The Larghetto which drew on recycled parts from Esther and one of the Chandos anthems was particularly elegant, and I admired the emotional depth Miss Martin invested in the beautiful Adagio. The final Allegro had the makings of a scherzo with a number of abrupt halts led by the first violin.

Sophie Bevan came into her own in the final work, Silete venti – a Latin motet composed between 1724 and 1730 – with additional support from a bassoon and second oboe.  During the French overture she made a dramatic entrance bidding the winds be still in the opening recitative. A splendid ariaDulcis amor followed expressing religious contentment.  But the winds were not stilled for ever. To quote from the English translation: “Let the winds arise and the blessed fortunate spirits breathe the resplendent breezes of Heaven”; after which Miss Bevan’s bright and cheerful alleluias rippled round the church.

On the whole this was a fine concert and very well received by the discerning audience. I have no doubt that after their debut at the Chipping Campden Festival the English Concert will be invited back for more of the same in the future.

Roger Jones

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