Academy of Ancient Music open new season with ‘an evening to cherish’ - review
For their first concert of the new season the Academy of Ancient Music under the superb leadership of violinist conductor, Bojan Ĉiĉić, had put together a sequence of baroque works highlighting the role of the trumpet.
It would be an understatement to say that this was a pleasing concert in every way. The academy’s flawless musicianship was evident from the outset where Mr. Shore’s Trumpet Tune, with principal trumpet David Blackadder taking the lead, confidently announced itself.
Jeremiah Clarke, its composer, best known for the so-called Trumpet Voluntary (once mistakenly ascribed to Henry Purcell), wrote the piece for its greatest virtuoso of that time, John Shore.
All this work’s exuberance and youthful optimism, however, was leading to a sad end for Clarke who, at the age of only 33, would shoot himself dead over a hopeless affair of the heart.
Walking onto the platform to sing ‘Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion’ from Messiah came rising star and multi-prize-winning soprano Rowan Pierce, whose astonishing voice instantly produced, with its sonority and texture, one of those overwhelming effects for which Handel is so famous.
Rowan was later to repeat that effect in her performances of Let the Bright Seraphim from Samson and, as an encore, the composer’s Eternal source of Light Divine, both of which foregrounded the affinity of the trumpet and the human voice.
There were times when this was particularly evident; David Blackadder’s matchless tones combining inseparably with the beauty of Rowan’s expressiveness in, for example, Daniel (son of Henry) Purcell’s Sound the Trumpet and the final Aria, the Alleluja, of Bach’s cantata, Jauchzet Gott.
The first half of the concert concluded with Gloria in Excelsis Deo, an early setting of Handel’s which remained undiscovered until it turned up in the library of The Royal Academy of Music in 2001. It’s an ecstatic, joyful piece in which Rowan Pierce was able to demonstrate the sheer range of her technique, coping effortlessly with the soaring opening as well as the earthy tread of the following passage, ‘Et in terra pax’.
How difficult must these works actually be to sing. Handel’s Gloria and Amen, Bach’s Alleluja require from a performer extreme levels of virtuosity.
And then, of course, there are the baroque composers themselves. In Paradise Lost the contemporary poet Milton had hoped, he said, to have produced a work ‘so written to after times as they should not willingly let it die’. On the score of Jauchzett Gott, as the evening’s programme notes reminded us, Bach had inscribed ‘per ogni tempo' (‘for any time’). One can only be thankful to have inherited such legacies as these.
And of course we are lucky to have as their interpreters singers of the calibre of Rowan Pierce and the players of Bojan Ĉiĉić’s ancient music ensemble. The scholarship and wonderful delivery of the academy’s musicians allowed us to make informed comparisons among English, German and Italian ‘sounds’ in the featured composers (Bach, Handel, Corelli, Torelli), while Rowan’s journey through the programme provided us with moments, each more exquisite than another – a highlight was surely her emotive Aria, ‘Höchster, mache deine Güte’, the second from the Bach cantata.
Such music, such performances, made this truly an evening to cherish.