Affectionately yours, Egarr keeps academy’s ancient history alive
Reviewed by Graham Strahle
Academy of Ancient Music & Sara Macliver, Adelaide Town Hall, November 6
THE Academy of Ancient Music won affection the world over in the 1970s as one of the first period instrument orchestras. Under founding director Christopher Hogwood, it had the field largely to itself in those days, but today there are many other such orchestras all working at the top level.
How AAM presently rates under Richard Egarr, who succeeded Hogwood in 2006, is clear the moment this band puts bow to gut string in its current, English-themed Musica Viva concert tour.
The playing has an intriguing relaxed but energised grace that contrasts with the hyper excitability of some period instrument bands. Matthew Locke’s pint-sized instrumental pieces for Thomas Shadwell’s version of The Tempest were gorgeously smooth – to the point where one could hardly distinguish individual instruments – but rhythmically scintillating. Egarr is a brilliant director who supplies much of the academy’s creative edge.
A powerhouse of a harpsichordist, he conducts from the keyboard with big, vigorous gestures that sweep up his players and propel the music forward. Yet everything is immaculately well mannered. Not one note in the Locke was forced or strained.
The other big revelation in this concert is the singing of Perth soprano Sara Macliver. Excerpts from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen showed she is easily the equal of this band. It really seemed that she was born to sing with them.
She navigated the fast-tripping Trice Happy Lovers with complete freedom, her voice sounding rather like Emma Kirkby (who performed with AAM in former days), but lighter and more agile. When I Have Often Heard possessed a delightful folksong freshness, and The Plaint an aching beauty with eloquent entwining oboe solos from Frank de Bruine. If their Purcell was about as good as one could imagine, so was their Handel.
First, a brief detour by way of Thomas Arne’s Overture No. 6 showed that not all collapsed in English music with the death of Purcell in 1695, but apart from him the story mostly belongs to Handel.
Again the academy and Macliver were on a crest of their own in selections from his operas and oratorios. Highlights were the “Ah! spietato” from Amadigi di Gaula with oboe obbligato, andLet the Bright Seraphim from Samson, with dazzling solo trumpet contributions from David Blackadder.
This article originally appeared in The Australian on November 11 2013 12:00AM at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/affectionately-yours-egarr-keeps-academys-ancient-history-alive/story-e6frg8n6-1226756826169#sthash.m6Wq1Bo6.xBDZQT3z.dpuf