Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Music for a While

October 12, 2011

Andreas Scholl Photo: James McMillan
Wow. That was my overall reaction to the performance that Andreas Scholl gave on Tuesday in Los Angeles where he appeared alongside the musicians of The English Concert under conductor Harry Bicket. The visit was part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Baroque Variations series, which this year has an especially strong line up including appearances by Concerto Köln, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and Europa Galante with Vivica Genaux. But all of those shows have a lot to live up to given the sheer beauty of Tuesday’s performance. The night was dedicated primarily to the music of Purcell, and featured a grab bag of bits from both King Arthur and The Fairy Queen in no particular order. There was also a sonata from Biber and a passacaglia from Muffat. Both highlighted Bicket’s clear-headed period-infused approach to the material. The playing was brisk and spirited with the Muffat standing out especially.

Yet, it was the German Scholl who quickly became the centerpiece of the evening, even with the most English of Baroque ensembles playing the music of one of the most English of composers. Scholl sang a little bit of everything Purcell, covering both excerpts from the larger works previously mentioned, but also three airs and two other works, “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas and “O solitude, my sweetest choice” thrown in for good measure. Scholl has an easy and accessible manner that matches his particularly bright and piercing tone. His vocal powers are formidable, and selection after selection he continued to impress. "Music for a while" was touching and good enough to serve as a real encore at the end of the evening. Scholl's take on "What power art thou" from The Fairy Queen was amazing for his ability to convey breathlessness in the most vocally satisfying ways. This wasn't gimmickry, but good old-fashioned technique and it was simply captivating. Even Scholl's version of "Dido's Lament" seemed to buck convention. This wasn't one of those romanticized, bloated renditions favored by too many mezzos, but a simplified, almost stripped down take, notable more for its profound restraint than its excesses.

The English Concert and Scholl are headed around the country including an appearance at Carnegie Hall this month and it's a winner of an evening. And if you miss him there, it's a sure bet that his appearance in Handel's Rodelinda at the Metropolitan Opera starting in November will be largely rewarding. Don't worry if you won't be in New York, though. Rodelinda will make it to the Met's HD Live series across the world on December 3, and Scholl's got a new recording of Bach cantatas just out this week as well. It's your chance to see one of the world's greats, so take advantage of his proximity while you can.


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