NATIONAL CONCERT HALL
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Academy of Ancient Music pays a welcome visit to the National Concert Hall in the latest of its Great Artists Series.
Music director since 2006, the ubiquitous Richard Egarr acts as its conductor, soloist, accompanist and fortepiano continuo player; while the period-instrument academy's programme positions itself firmly in the 18th Century through Handel, Haydn and Mozart.
The evening begins with Mozart's penultimate Salzburg Symphony – B flat K 319 – where the academy's wiry strings give the music a kind of earthy quality. Under Maestro Egarr, the music breathes an air of spontaneity.
The Minuet and Trio are later additions to the symphony's original three movements and they are bewitchingly phrased by the visiting musicians, who add an extra sense of expectation with their hints of hesitation at crucial junctures.
Mozart's 'duck and dive' Finale finds the orchestra responding with impeccable precision to Egarr's direction in presenting the good-humoured music with elfin sprightliness in its galloping gait.
The other main ensemble piece is Haydn's Keyboard Concerto No 11 with Richard Egarr conducting and playing the delectable fortepiano on loan from DIT for the occasion. Now the instrument's sound may be restricted when compared to the modern piano but Egarr's brilliant playing transports us back to a less frenetic century than our own.
The concerto's Finale has an infectious gaiety interpreted by soloist and orchestra with virtuoso excess and helter-skelter bravura and, among other things, horns mimicing drums and drones in the imaginatively accented performance. Egarr's own cadenzas fit perfectly into the Haydn mould.
The evening's other soloist is the German countertenor Andreas Scholl. Scholl's voice, wonderfully controlled, has a kind of porcelain fragility in Mozart's Abendempfidung and Das Veilchen lieder, which Richard Egarr supports with cobweb fortepiano tracery.
In three of Haydn's London Canzonettas, Scholl recreates the drawing-room intimacy of their time with Richard Egarr offering consummate backing.
Handel arias continue the refined ambience. Giulio Cesare's Sei in fiorito also has exceptional playing from the academy's leader as he partners Scholl's lithe and agile coloratura roulades. However, the singer's limited tone makes it difficult to imagine the bravado of the imperial Roman conqueror even if engaged in amorous pursuits!
If one wishes for more body in the voice, Scholl still captures the desolate rejection contained in He was despised from Messiah. Scholl's unfolding of Christ's suffering is like contemplating Caravaggio's austere Ecco Homo canvas. The academy is both sensitive and dramatic in its complementing sympathy.