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Concert Report/ Concordia & Elin Manahan Thomas

img  Tobias

Watching Concordia perform live sometimes feels a bit voyeuristic. With all musicians playing their instrument in an upright position and the group seated in a semi-circle, they are able to follow each other's every move, making for an intimate setting, completely detached from the world outside. That, of course, is what Baroque music is capable of doing in its strongest moments - carrying you far away to another world, while locking your attention very much in the present – and Concordia are effectively chanelling these powers to their audience.

Today's program goes by the name of “Knock'd on the head”, a title which suggests extrovert and upbeat or maybe even “smashing” tunes, but doesn't quite prepare for the occasionally contemplative works on the menu. Especially the “Consort Sett a 6 in G minor” by William Lawes (who composed in the court of Charles I), strategically placed towards the end of the show, comes as a true discovery with its slowly building, shifting and decaying sheet of chords and fey melodic textures. “Newark Siege” might seem more suitable at first, but is essentially a composition dealing with war – which takes the motto to very literal heights.

What turns Concordia into more than just another old music group (apart from their 15 years of experience, of course) is their associative and clear sound as well as their technique of switching their set-up within a mere seconds, creating entirely different effects with just minor adjustments. With the the full string section in action and Robert Howarth contributing themes and droning bass notes from his organ, the band achieves a rich, overwhelming compactness, while other tracks demand a leaner approach, allowing for a curved tension arch.

And then, of course, the instrumentalists are accompanied by Elin Manahan Thomas, whose crystalin voice pierces the cool air of the church like a velvet sword. The self-declared “Bach, Handel and Purcell girl” has turned into something of a regular here at St. John, Smith Square, appearing in various settings and with different programs under her imaginary belt. From the composers on top of her list, only Purcell made it to the cut of “Knock'd on the head”, but even though she pays special attention to the three pieces the English master contributes here by introducing “The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation” with some background information and turning “Bess of Bedlam” into a veritable mini-opera, her dedication to the remaining works (by John Jenkins, Orlando Gibbons and aforementioned William Lawes) are just as commanding and concentrated.

Much has been written about Thomas' voice and right from the very first note she sings, it is clear why: Pure and pristine, yet powerful and plaintive if need be, it has the potential of penetrating the soul of public and score alike. On the other hand, it pleasantly lacks the ethereal fleetingness typical of many of her colleagues, allowing her to make the different degrees of pain included in the cries of “Gabriel, Gabriel, Gabriel” in “Expostulation” apparent, of singing about God and about earthly love and of accompanying the words with body movements which never seem contrived.

The hall isn't completely sold out, but this only enhances the feeling of a private concert. When Howarth supports Thomas on Harpsichord and all other musicians have left the stage, the feeling of Voyeurism returns. It is a sensation both uneasy and exciting, which turns this afternoon into an emphatic and sometimes edgey feature on artists who deserve to be heard outside of specialised old music circles.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music
Homepage: Elin Manahan Thomas

Article in serie

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1 Concert Report/ Ensemble San Felice: "Handel - Rodrigo"
Live at St John's Smith ...
2008-05-18
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2 Concert Program/ Ensemble San Felice: "Handel - Rodrigo"
From the official Program Notes: ...
2008-05-18
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3 Concert Report/ Concordia & Elin Manahan Thomas
Lie at St. John's Smith ...
2008-05-18
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4 Concert Program/ Concordia & Elin Manahan Thomas
From the official Program Notes: ...
2008-05-18
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5 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 3
London, May 17th: Concordia & ...
2008-05-18

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