Reviewed by Andrew Wilding
Camerata Tinta Barocca in collaboration with the Cape Consort, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Wednesday 9 December 2015
After 6 months as CTB Artistic Director, harpsichordist Erik Dippenaar continues to provide interesting and entertaining pre-concert talks, and always finds a way to relate the issues of the mid 18th century to modern times. He dedicated the evening’s performance to recent outbreaks of stupidity, violent insanity, and suffering in the world.
At full tutti, the combined forces of CTB and the Cape Consort were a heavenly and perfect balance of sound. Given that the material lends itself to the sound of perfection, that is merely its potential, and does not guarantee the performance. It is amazing to hear this work interpreted with such innocence and clarity, and performed with conviction and immaculate synchronism. CTB lived up to their reputation, maintaining their high standards of timing and excellent dynamic and technical control on period instruments. It is the singers who shine brightest in Handel’s Messiah, and the Cape Consort were well matched to the instrumentalists. We enjoyed a rich balance of voices and orchestra, through mesmerizing cascades of fugal tendrils, and crisp dotted rhythms. “For unto us a child is born” was such an exquisite delivery, so graceful and full of light – each phrase like a bite-size lemon-meringue caramel drop, melting in the mouth. The “Hallelujah” was simply spectacular.
Leopold Mozart is famously quoted: “Performers there are who tremble consistently on each note as if they had the palsy.” (source) Much like Beethoven’s tempo markings, tremolo (vibrato) is a sensitive issue, especially with Baroque music, but our soloists last Thursday achieved an ideal balance between the nude charm of the undressed voice, and the sophisticated “natural quivering” (L. Mozart) of sustained notes. Soprano Antoinette Blyth demonstrated wonderful baroque timbre, simple and accurate, with tasteful use of tremolo. Elsabé Richter has a stunning voice and compelling audience eye-contact. Her delivery was beguilingly fresh, as if singing for the first time, and yet magical, with a feeling that she knows exactly what she is doing. This temperament was perfectly suited to “I know that my redeemer” – a deceptively innocent little song, demanding an advanced level of accomplishment and experience on the part of the performer. Lente Louw is always a treat! We did “Rejoice greatly” indeed, the aria is highly technical and written for an accomplished singer. Her alto duet with Elsabé Richter “He shall feed his flock” had the audience hanging on every note, so hazy and dreamy in a lulling lazy 6/8, like two angles dancing. Not to go on and on, “But thou didst not leave” was absolutely breathtaking.
Alto Nick de Jager may well have stolen the show with amazing arpeggios in his falsetto register and seamless crossover into his modal voice. There is a natural authenticity about the male alto in Baroque music, being the closest available version of the castrato. The sound is also reminiscent of period wind instruments such as baroque flute – a breathy simpleness that can be disarmingly technical, and adds striking colour to acapella sections. Monika Voysey paradoxed her full soft deep mezzo roundness with accuracy and crystalline diction. Her delivery was compassionate and warm.
Tenor Warren Vernon-Driscoll offered a velvet version of the challenging “Every valley” with excellent intonation. Willem Bester was an artfully concealed jewel, emerging in Part 2 with brilliant technique, tasteful use of vibrato, and beautiful tone.
Charles Ainslie is the other candidate for show-stealer. His powerful bass and good audience contact ankered the dramatic deep end of the work, with a spine chilling “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth”, supported by eery atmospheric harpsichord, uneasy double bass, and edgy violins. In many ways the mainstay of the work, he was able to draw together the ethos of relating issues of the mid 18th century (and even biblical times) to modern issues. “Why do the nations” is still as topical now as it was in Handel’s time, and just as topical in biblical times. “Why do the nations so furiously rage together: why do the people imagine a vain thing?”
I felt that beneath this performance of Handel’s Messiah was a clear interpretation that folded the last two thousand years into the present, with a Baroque flavour. The singers and instrumentalists of the Cape Consort and Camerata Tinta Barocca conveyed a strong message to rise above stupidity and violence, and find a way to live with each-other harmoniously.