As one of the most highly esteemed countertenors in the opera world today, Andreas Scholl did not disappoint and radiated confidence and sincerity in his interpretations of some of Purcell’s most beautiful music.
By Melanie O’Neill
Yesterday, in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, the Celebrity Series of Boston and The Boston Early Music Festival presented The English Concert, led by Harry Bicket and featuring acclaimed countertenor Andreas Scholl.
This performance marked Scholl’s Celebrity Series of Boston debut. As one of the most highly esteemed countertenors in the opera world today, he did not disappoint and radiated confidence and sincerity in his interpretations of some of Purcell’s most beautiful music. The program gave Scholl the opportunity to showcase both his crisp coloratura and bewitching lyricism. Baroque pieces are often largely repetitive in their text, but Scholl gave every repeated phrase a different tone and emphasis, digging deeper into the subtext with every repetition.
The program began with Heinrich Biber’s regal Sonata a 6 for Trumpet, Strings, and Continuo. Even while playing the harpsichord, Bicket exhibited great control over the ensemble, sometimes fully conducting, sometimes with only one hand, and often only with eye contact and body language. The ensemble played expressively and attentively. The players could be seen cuing each other with their eyes and bodies throughout the concert; the result was an impeccably unified sound on both a rhythmic and dynamic level.
Some of the highlights of the program were “Sweeter than roses,” from Purcell’s Three Airs, “What Power Art Thou,” from Purcell’s King Arthur, and “Dido’s Lament,” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. “Sweeter than roses,” with only the harpsichord, theorbo, and cello accompanying the melismatic vocal line, begins tenderly. Scholl starts legato, with a sensuous, dark tone, then moves to concise trills on his repetition of the word “trembling.” When he abruptly moves to a passionate upbeat section on the words “then shot like fire,” Scholl kindles the listener’s imagination.
“What Power Art Thou” from King Arthur, in contrast with the ardent love song, “Sweeter than roses,” had Scholl explore his artistry in a very different way. The vocal line, consisting of little more than ascending and descending staccato scales with minor embellishments and chromatic alterations, can be very boring, even when performed perfectly. Scholl compensates by bringing intensity to the piece. Using drastic crescendos and decrescendos to mark the phrases, exaggerated staccato, and even panting the lines “I can scarcely move or draw my breath,” Scholl invigorates the music.
Probably the best known of the program’s pieces was “Dido’s Lament” from the opera Dido and Aeneas. The orchestra set the somber tone for the Queen’s tragic aria, and Scholl did the rest. His performance was heartbreaking. Scholl’s fluid voice swelled to crescendos that made the heart throb and receded to a delicate softness, giving the aria beautiful color and contrast. Scholl first sings the final repetitions of “Remember me! But, ah, forget my fate!” with intimations of agonizing pain, then pleadingly, and finally with pitiful resignation. After his final note, the orchestra continued to a mournful, but definitive, close. During the second half of the program some “bonus tracks,” as Bicket called them, were thrown into the mix, including If Music Be the Fruit of Love and Purcell’s Strike the Viol.
Andreas Scholl’s most recent CD, released on October 13th, is Andreas Scholl Sings Bach Cantatas. He is accompanied by the Kammerorchester Basel, conducted by Julia Schröder.