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Review: Bononcini’s Stabat Mater by Portsmouth Baroque Choir

27/03/2019

The last time I saw the Portsmouth Baroque Choir they sang music by Liechtenstein’s most famous composer. With so much to choose from in the area tonight, it presumably being how long it takes to rehearse something since Christmas, it could have been Haydn and Mozart in the cathedral but All Saints is closer and it’s interesting to give lesser-known composers a hearing.

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But there is lesser-known and then there are lesser-knowns even less known, brother.

The Marcello of the Oboe Concerto here wasn’t Benedetto Marcello whose opera, Arianna, waits patiently on the shelves for me to finish the latest batch of Handel discs, but Alessandro. On the map of baroque composers, who served the music ahead of expressing themselves in a personal style, this Marcello is not far from Vivaldi, especially in the quicker tempi, and anybody who says it’s Bach might remember J.S. spent a lot of time with Vivaldi scores. Karla Powell was deft and nimble, especially as required in the presto, where the oboe almost slipped the surly bonds of oboe to imitate the high trumpet in the Brandenburg no.2, but the Dolce Quartet, superb throughout, contributed to gorgeous effect in the Adagio.

That was by way of an hors d’oeuvre to the headline piece, Bononcini’s Stabat Mater, but even if you know Bononcini you might not know the right one because this is attributed to Antonio, not Giovanni.

If all Stabat Maters have Pergolesi to contend with, they all at least have the poignant text to work on. Portsmouth Baroque Choir make a fine sound in unison but also here shared out the solo parts among who Pru Bell-Davies was first up, setting a high standard, best when moving into the higher range and proving impressive equal to any challenge and, not surprisingly since he got his own biographical note in the programme, Adrian Green, whose tenor is sure and accomplished. We had been given value for money by half-time and I was glad the attendance was all it might be in the face of the fixture congestion.

I don’t think Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville is any more famous than Marcello’s brother but his De Profundis Clamavi, having not really reached the heights of the first half in its early paces, came to life with the Recit de Haute-contre, sung by Jo Earney, and made a case for the depth of French baroque behind the first team of Couperin the Tenebres Man, Rameau, Lully, who are somewhere up there with those Italians who seem to have invented it. The choir filled the modest but admirable All Saints with the sweeping lines of the Requiem aeternam.

And Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna had its moments. I’m not always convinced by C20th religious music, it sometimes seems to incorporate the doubt that many of us, on the evidence, was born into and found in post-Darwinian literature. And lines like,
quemadmodum speravimus in te
(Let your mercy, Lord, be upon us)
inasmuch as we have trusted in you.

“Inasmuch”? Is it quite so contingent. And Lauridsen’s music seemed to float between a comfort blanket and something almost Songs of Praise and lacked the intensity of European contemporaries like Arvo Part, John Tavener, James Mac Millan and Gorecki. Having had my first taste of the new Scala Radio station in the afternoon, I’m not going to say he quite belongs there but he might be fit for David Mellor and the Classic FM chart show. But, hold on, let’s give him an even break. The choir put in a convincing performance and the string quartet part was the music that stayed with me on my way home. The organ had understatedly underscored passages, reminding us to be thoughtful and maybe the oboe, adding an edge to the strings, was what made it sweeter than some of us require because, frankly, in these difficult times, something darker like The Protecting Veil might be saying a similar thing but with more acknowledgement of how difficult it is.

But thank you very much to Portsmouth Baroque Choir, some tremendous work by all four of the Dolces, Karla, Peter the organist, the soloists and Malcolm the conductor, whom I suspect of being the adventurous spirit who brings these composers to our attention.

Keep up the good work.

David Green – Visit the original blog page.

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