Reviewed by Andy Wilding
The Cape Consort and Camerata Tinta Barocca
St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church 8:00pm Wednesday 22 June 2016
Artistic Directors Erik Dippenaar and Hans Huyssen celebrated the tradition established by CTB founder Quentin Crida of a “Pre-concert talk NOT LECTURE” – an educational yet amusing introduction to the works on the program. Crida often contextualised the music in relation to parallel historical events such as battles or famous pirates, and it is good to see the continuation of his much appreciated preludes. Intellectually pithy enough for the academics in the room, Dippenaar’s talk focussed on Handel’s style and influences, as well as illustrating some of the more zany events in Handel’s life, such as the great composer duelling with fellow maestro Johann Mattheson over an argument in the orchestra pit. Huyssen talking about Bach, struck a similar balance between information and interest, explaining the recycling of themes and how they will appear in the mass, as well as causing us to ponder the close proximity of the two composers who were born just one month and 150km apart, Handel February 1685 in Halle, and Bach March 1685 in Eisenach. In closing, Huyssen drew our attention to the significance of this collaboration between the Cape Consort and Camerata Tinta Barocca: an all-local production that did not rely on imported soloists to draw a crowd. He said: “We are now at a stage where we can perform major baroque pieces with local forces!”
There was enthusiastic applause.
Handel – Dixit Dominus
With a few extra bows from the UCT College of Music to swell it’s ranks, “the band” maintained its usual high standard of clean delivery and light youthfulness, playing on period instruments. The continuo section’s heartbeat was as one instrument, undeterred by its size: harpsichord, two celli, theorbo (bass lute), and double-bass. The additions from UCT brought the CTB up to sixteen for the Handel, and balanced perfectly with the Cape Consort who were fourteen, joined by three singers from UCT. A choir and orchestra of thirty in total is about half the size of Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists combined, and while larger productions have powerful choruses, a smaller group creates a more soloist-orientated performance, as Dippenaar pointed out during his talk.
Matildie Thom Wium made it look easy, navigating the tricky arpeggios of Virgam virtutis in a mellow mezzo tone with excellent control of breathing and intonation. The Tecum principium by Elsabé Richter was agile, delicate, and enchantingly ornamented. Beautiful counterpoint in 3rds from the violins! Tutti sections demonstrated the balance advantage of a small orchestra and highlighted soloists. There is always an excitement and fresh enthusiasm about Camerata Tinta Barocca. They make it look fun to change from crotchets to quavers, like a dance that suddenly turns to double time. Their staccato was impeccable.
From deep within the folds of the work, Lente Louw’s De torrente in via emerged like Venus in Botticelli’s painting. Her crescendo was so gradual as to seem magical, and with Antoinette Blyth they created the most soothing healing moment: “On his way, he will drink of the torrent, so to look up in triumph.”
The 3 Tenors were suitably glorious in the Gloria Patri, Willem Bester, Warren Vernon-Driscoll, and Lance Phillip.
Bach – Mass in A major
We arrived after interval to a scene change: the harpsichord had been replaced by two baroque flutes. The newly created wind section (Bridget Rennie Salonen and Nele Holm) included Dippenaar on the chamber organ, and merged into a sweet mellow woody sound.
Huyssen directed from his cello – an art in itself, considering that his bow hand was busy most of the time. It was rewarding to hear the nuances that he pointed out in his pre-concert talk about the mass, for example choosing to play the Kyrie eleison in the French baroque style because the inégalité or uneven lilt to the semiquavers evokes a kind of plea, whereas the regimented German baroque style would sound more dogmatic or demanding. Wonderfully sweet bass from Donal Slemon.
There were so many highlights – the Gloria in excelsis Deo featuring Willem Bester was a show stealer; Domine Deus showcased the authoritative rich excellently controlled lower register of Charles Ainslie and the CTB’s stunning ensemble playing (Annien Shaw violin, Uwe Grosse theorbo, Dippenaar organ and Huyssen cello) – an absolute jewel; Antoinette Blyth’s Qui tollis floated angelically over enchanting flutes, and, just as Huyssen promised in his talk, the violins played the continuo part, so as to create a sound that was “feet out of the mud, just floating with the angels, no bass”. Monika Voysey’s mature mezzo was the perfect velvety Quoniam tu solus sanctus.
The final chorus filled St Andrews with a flood of serotonin that developed in swirling eddies continuously transforming and fractalizing, following what could only be a divine blueprint. As Dippenaar commented afterwards, Bach is on a whole different level! We can only imagine his experiences that inspired such music as this, and we enjoyed doing so on this near freezing mid winter evening, braving the longest night but one, to hear the music of the spheres – the sound of the Cosmos.
OPENING 2 JULY 2016 6:00PM
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