An inspiring and inspired pairing of Vivaldi and Pergolesi by the OAE

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Vivaldi and Pergolesi – Sacred Baroque: Katherine Watson, Rowan Pierce, Zoe Brookshaw (sopranos), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe), Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Steven Devine (organ/director). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 11.11.2019. (CC)

Pergolesi – Stabat Mater

Albinoni – Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op.9/2

Vivaldi – Gloria in D, RV 589

An evening of great beauty from the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: two deservedly well-known vocal/choral works of genius framed one of Albinoni’s deepest statements in his D minor Oboe Concerto from the Op.9 set.

Recently, a sublime performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in the Royal Chapel at Versailles was most impressive, featuring Sophie Junker and Eva Zaïcik (here). Here we had Katherine Watson (suffering alas from a bad cold, hence the addition of the Choir’s Zoe Brookshaw to the line-up of the Vivaldi, with Rowan Pierce taking centre-stage in that work) and Iestyn Davies. Pergolesi’s masterpiece is incredibly touching. A handout of a handwritten note by double-bassist Cecelia Bruggemeyer spoke of the plethora of harmonic suspensions Pergolesi uses, and of their emotional effect on her. Indeed, on everyone, surely, in this gorgeous performance.

There was no doubting Isetyn Davies’ vocal power here – his voice cutting like a knife, yet with unutterable beauty. The most notable aspect to his performance was the cleanliness of delivery, though, intervals perfectly judged and slurs of pristine accuracy. Watson’s slurs in ‘O quam tristis’ had a loveliness to them, too. Occasionally one did feel she could not match him (‘Fac ut ardeat cor meum’ from the ‘Sancta mater’ section). Throughout, though, one wondered at the stylishness of the accompaniments, so tender and carefully sculpted, a testament to Steven Devine’s direction. A most memorable performance, the concluding bright ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ and lovely, still ‘Quando corpus morietur’ followed by a robust final ‘Amen’ bringing the performance a fine sense of closure.

The Albinoni Oboe Concerto begins with a movement marked Allegro non presto. The cautionary ‘non presto’ was well marked by the astonishing Katharina Spreckelsen (of the orchestra) and the OAE itself. The minor-mode shadows were honoured, Spreckelsen’s warm tone seeming perfectly aligned with Albinoni’s intended Affekt. Most impressive though was the central Adagio, the OAE providing a simply gorgeous bed of sound over which Speckelsen’s oboe sang. The severity of Albinoni’s writing in the finale, too, was writ large, a grim determination through the performance. This was a imply superb performance, one to elevate Albinoni to the heights of the twin pillars around him.

So to the second pillar, Vivaldi’s well-known Gloria in D, with the fabulous Rowan Pierce joined by Zoe Brookshaw, the latter delivering her lines with great confidence and precision. The energy of life itself was the thread that ran through this account, Devine marshalling his performers brilliantly, including the chamber-strength choir. His judging of Vivaldi’s carefully placed silences was particularly noteworthy. The choir was impeccably trained, not least in the balancing of ‘Et in terra pax’. One is perhaps used to Rowan Pierce’s pure voice and impeccable musicality – each and every time she sings, she seems capable of bringing the greatest joy. It was lovely to have her well-matched by Brookshaw. Davies was superb, too, in his plaintive ‘Doomine Deus,’ phrases drooping in the most lachrymose fashion; only, perhaps, in the ‘Qui sedes’ did one wish for just that touch more virtuosity (memories of Maarten Engeltjes in Vivaldi.)

If the subject matter of the Pergolesi referred to the Divine Feminine as exemplified by the Virgin Mary, the Vivaldi took in a silent female background presence of the girls of the Ospidale della Pièta. A most inspiring – and inspired – concert that triumphed over seasonally-driven adversity.

Colin Clarke

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