Expert Handel Performances for the Brook Street Band’s 20th Anniversary

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Handel: Nicki Kennedy (soprano); Matthew Brook (bass-baritone). Brook Street Band Wigmore Hall, London, 17.7.2016 (CC)

Trio Sonata in C from Saul, HWV403
“Oxford” Water Music (ed Theo): Suite In F: Menuet; [Allegro]; Bourée – Hornpipe – Bourée. Suite in G minor: Menuets I and II; Allegro. Suite in D: Minuet; Lentement; Bourée
Trio Sonata in G, Op. 5/4 (HWV399)
Apollo e Dafne

Celebrating their 20th anniversary (1996-2016), the Brook Street Band gave its Sunday night Wigmore audience a Handelian treat. A wonderful reminder of the freshness of the music of Handel, this was a remarkable evening of music whose surface might exude gentilité, but whose heart is filled with the deepest human emotions.

The first half was devoted to chamber music. The Trio Sonata HWV403 is indelibly linked to Handel’s oratorio Saul (the Ouverture and Sinfonia of the oratorio both feature music from the Trio Sonata, as does Act 2). Marked here by the sweetest of interchanges between baroque violinists Rachel Harris and Farran Scott, it established that Harris and Scott are two absolute equals in this repertoire, answering each other magnificently.

The “Oxford” Water Music refers to compositions between 1717 and 1719 that predate the orchestral versions, and were written when Handel was in the employ of the Duke of Chandos at Cannons (better known to us these days as Edgware, North London). Beautifully delivered (including some miraculously throwaway ornamentation by Rachel Harris), it was intriguing to hear some of the more outdoorsy moments (horn figures, for example) in a more civilised, gentle setting. The song-like cello lines of baroque cellist Tatty Theo (whose editions were used) came across as full toned and expressive but perfectly in style. The baroque flute of Mafalda Ramos joined the ensemble during the G minor pieces, before the D major pieces revealed the violins in a lovely, silvery soundworld.

The G major trio Sonata HWV399 mines the scores of Athalia, Radamisto, Parnasso in Festa, Terpsichore and Alcina for its material. The sharp staccato of the first movement was the most advanced writing of the first half; in fact the piece is remarkably assured and exploratory. A joy of a first half, in all respects.

After Acis and Galatea in Milton Court earlier in the year, now came Apollo e Dafne. In a further interconnection, the Acis at Milton Court, Andrew Tortise, appeared as the Simpleton in Prom 2 this year (Boris Godunov). The pastoral cantata Apollo e Dafne comes from the same source as Acis (Ovid’s Metamorphoses). Inevitably doomed love plays a part. Perhaps not so inevitably, Dafne gets turned into a tree: on this occasion she returned to the stage adorned with what looked like a laurel crown. The biggest part is actually that of Apollo, taken with huge authority by Matthew Brook; Nicki Kennedy was his pure-voiced Dafne. Both singers decorated, always tastefully, the reprises of their ABA1 arias. The obbligato instrumental contributions were beautifully done, particularly, perhaps, Theo’s cello contribution to Apollo’s “Come rosa in su la spina”.

A beautiful evening. The Brook Street Band records for the Avie label, where one can find their excellent recordings of the Trio Sonatas and “Oxford” Water Music (review) heard here.

Colin Clarke



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