RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Concert Report/ Carolyn Sampson, Laurence Cummings, English Concert

img  Tobias

Then, however, it is time to have one final cup of coffee at Starbuck's before walking the short way to St. John's at Smith Square, where all but a few of the concerts will be performed. I pick up my ticket from the Box Office, hosted in the cellar of the noble and festive church and then take my seat at the back of the hall. Slowly, crowds of guests stream through the doors, left wide open to allow the cool night air in, and with maybe a total of one or two seats remaining untaken, it is clear that this is a sold-out ouverture to the Lufthansa Festival.

Entitled „The Triumph of Peace I“, tonight's event will feature music by Handel and Rameau and act as a sort of introduction to the festival's underlying theme. What immediately strikes me is that the organisors have withstood the temptation of presenting a program of happy holding-hands-music. Peace, after all, is closely associated with war, either as its result or even as the uneasy phase of fragile tension leading up to it. Accordingly, Handel's „Concerto Grosso Alexander's Feast“ celebrates Alexander the Great's victory over King Darius, while Rameau's „Nais“ (subtitled an „Opera for Peace“) was written after the War of the Austrian Succesion had finally ended. What gives these pieces depth is their  realisation that peace always comes at a cost and that there are scars hiding underneath the outwardly tranquil tissue.

The second important feature of the evening is the dialogue between Laurence Cumming's „English Concert“ ensemble and Soprano Carolyn Sampson, between instrumental allusion and vocal bliss. This combination has already unfolded its potential on CD („Victorious Love“, which celebrated some of Purcell's finest moments was album of the month on this site) and the intuitive and telepathic understanding between Cumming's emphatic immersion into the works and Sampson's sensitive and sensible transportation of words into wondrous metaphors works just as well on stage, providing the program with a subtle tension that stimulates all senses.

The English Concert certainly have the stamina to prove why Baroque music is so much fun to watch live. While Cummings acts as the group's axis, directing the ensemble from his Harpsichord, first and second violin take turns in presenting the themes, duetting and duelling with their distinct styles. Each and every musician in the line-up is not just a wheel in the music's clockwork, but a personality with a unique character. While Cumming's emotive gestures and vigorous swaying movements on his chair can tend to seem manierist at times, they keep the individual temperaments at bay, uniting them into a slender, coherent and compact sound.

For Handel's Organ Concerto „The Cuckoo“, he disappears behind a small organ, whose metal pipes have been turned towards the audience to improve diffusion (a soliary spectator curiously bends over the ballustrade to observe each and every of his finger movements), sending out on-a-dime improvisations, often culled from the most minimal of basic material. In the ferociously loud passages of „Nais“, meanwhile, he turns into an explosive firecracker, suddenly jumping up from his stool, both feet well off the ground, only to land safely and hit the keys like  Jerry Lee Lewis. Visually, the supposed deficit of classical music compared to Rock and Pop turns out to be nothing but a rumour.

In direct comparison, Carolyn Sampson has the commanding presence of someone who revels in the works she is able to give to the audience as a gift and who enjoys singing live as an immediate, physical contact with listeners. If Cummings is the band's backbone tonight, she is its face, never letting go of the bond with the hall, not even when she is silent. On wings of swooning and wallowing chords, she turns into a storyteller, turning „Sweet Bird, that shunn'st the noise of Folly“ or „Ah! Que la Paix nous promet de douceurs!“ into musical hollograms, threedimensional, tangible and slightly mysterious. Just as on „Victorious Love“, she treats the lyrics like an actor would, carving out meaning where others see nothing but sound. More than anything else, though, her melodic lines tonight are focussed on bringing out the fluency and deeply-felt relief of these themes.

Already by the first interval, everyone has fallen in love with her. As the doors are opened at half-time, she stands amidst friendly admirers, modestly answering compliments with remarks like „It's such wonderful music!“. In the second half, everyone involved on stage seems to thrive on this wave of enthusiasm. Almost tribal drums power on the English Concert like a psychedelic rock band, brass impulses send out glaring fanfares and melodies push each other on to a point of no return, circling towards the finale of „Air de triomphe en rondeau“.

An inspired evening with a perceivably powerful chemistry comes to a close. As I walk towards the underground station (where I will find most of the lines suspended because of signal failures), I think to myself how great it would be if the BBC (who will apparently tape some of the Lufthansa Festival's concerts) could offer this as a download.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music
Homepage: The English Concert

Article in serie

2 Concert Report/ Carolyn Sampson, Laurence Cummings, English Concert
Live at St. John's, Smith ...
3 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 1
London, May 15th: English Concert, ...

Related articles

Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2010: Celebrating Monteverdi's Vespers
The 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's ...
CD Feature/ Joyce DiDonato: "Furore"; Diana Damrau: "Donna"
Indelible & dauntless : A ...
Gábor Boldoczki: 'Gloria' trumpets out a succesful year
Hungarian Trumpet virtuoso Gábor Boldoczki ...
Concert Report: Lev Vinocour
Live at the Schloss vor ...
Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 4
London, May 18th: The Wallfish ...
Concert Report/ Ensemble San Felice: "Handel - Rodrigo"
Live at St John's Smith ...
Concert Report/ Concordia & Elin Manahan Thomas
Lie at St. John's Smith ...

Partner sites