fri 19/07/2024

Andreas Scholl, Accademia Bizantina, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Andreas Scholl, Accademia Bizantina, Barbican

Andreas Scholl, Accademia Bizantina, Barbican

Newly discovered works got a bit lost in the fuss and fog of this performance

Andreas Scholl: a performance that came into focus as the evening progressedJames McMillan

Marian devotions have given us some of sacred music’s most striking works, from graceful Ave Marias to anguished settings of the Stabat Mater. Andreas Scholl and musicologist Bernardo Ticci have recently gone in search of some less familiar ones – companion pieces for Vivaldi’s theatrical Stabat Mater, which has long been part of Scholl’s concert repertoire.

They have emerged with a rich handful of works from 18th century Naples. Music by Porpora, Vinci and Anfossi makes for a varied, if rather fragmented, evening.

While the speaker of the Stabat Mater (set here both by Vivaldi) watches the grieving Virgin from a distance, the Marian texts of Porpora’s Il trionfo della Divina Giustizia nei tormenti e morte di Gesu Cristo and Vinci’s Oratorio a 4 Voci e Stromenti are both first-person narratives, creating a wonderfully androgynous friction with a countertenor soloist. It’s a dramatic tension Scholl’s distinctive voice plays into, its glassy purity – frosted slightly now compared to its early clarity – chafing against the low-lying register of much of this repertoire.

Scholl delivered a disquietingly beautiful performance of Vivaldi's 'Stabat Mater'There’s an aural discomfort that works nicely for the Porpora, with its knottier emotions and aching lament “Occhi mesti”, but less so for the galant ease and trickling lyricism of the Anfossi or the showy coloratura of Porpora’s “Per pieta”, which would both benefit from a power and gloss Scholl simply doesn’t have towards the lower end of his voice. Had the concert been programmed in the Wigmore Hall it wouldn’t have mattered so much, but in the unsympathetic cavern of the Barbican it was unignorable, and I wonder how much those at the back were really able to hear.                                                                                  

But with the Vivaldi the mist lifted. Released into a more comfortable register Scholl delivered a disquietingly beautiful performance, taking us from the dark drama of his “Quis est homo”, its string parts hammering the nails of the Cross so clearly, to the rhetorical fluidity of the “Quis non posset” and the fragility of the “Vidit suum” passage. How good to hear the work among its peers, to set it against the passionate, quasi-operatic spirituality of the Porpora and Vinci and the superficial, salon charm of the Anfossi, and understand the power of its restraint.

Accademia BizantinaUnder music director Ottavio Dantone Accademia Bizantina (pictured above) are a dynamic force. Without him, directed from the violin by Alessandro Tampieri, the Ravenna-based group were noticeably more muted, less expansive in their gestures. Ragazzi’s Sonata a 4 in C minor was engaging enough, if unremarkable, but Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G minor RV332 felt decidedly unsteady, pinched and anxious from Tampieri as soloist – a feeling transmitted to the band whose tempi rocked unsettlingly throughout.

Too many tuning breaks and too much stage business cluttered a programme with much to offer, blunting the dramatic blade of works that deserved greater clarity for what was, in many cases, their first concert outing in the UK.


Under music director Ottavio Dantone Accademia Bizantina are a dynamic force. Without him they were noticeably more muted


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Many thanks for this review. Just a few corrections. Mrs Coughlan writes, "While the speaker of the Stabat Mater (set here both by Vivaldi and Anfossi)". There was no "Stabat Mater" by Anfossi performed in the program. The Anfossi piece we performed was a "Salve Regina", which is from it´s content something altogether different. There is no "Vidit suum" movement in Vivaldi´s "Stabat Mater" as Mrs. Coughlan suggests. This stanza is included as a soprano aria in Pergolesis "Stabat Mater", but isn´t featured as a separate movement in Vivaldis "Stabat Mater". Leonardo Vincis two arias were also performed during the concert as advertised in the program brochure. I agree on Mrs. Coughlan´s important observation about the "stage business" breaking up the arch of musical tension. As she would agree: There is always space for improvement.

Thank you for your correction, Andreas. The reference to the Anfossi has been changed, and I have made it clear that the reference to the "Vidit suum" is the passage of music rather than a discrete movement.

That´s the beauty of being a music critic. No risk of exposure. A few clicks and mistakes or shortcomings are corrected. The result looks neat again. If only musicians had that possibility..... ;-) I guess as with musicians there are different levels of music criticism and we all try to improve. Many thanks for the correction.

If all facts are to be correct, it's 'Coghlan' and not 'Coughlan': Alexandra is a fine enough writer to deserve the respect of getting her name right.

You're comparing apples with golden apples, you silly man. People paid over £40 to hear you sing, people are reading this review for free. You will have pocketed thousands on Tuesday night, your reviewer will hardly have done the same. You are not on an equivalent playing field, and so enjoy different levels of scrutiny. That said, yours was an elitist endeavour for the private club who could afford to get in. This review is a democratic endeavour, open to all. Fewer than 2000 people will have heard you sing. Thanks to your petulant intervention, many many thousands will read this exchange. Better use of your time would be to go and do some work on your low notes.

Dear "Andrew" (if that really is your name: no last name, no verification and no clue what you are writing about): all you suggest is false - all the time: many critics criticize for wrong reasons, knowing not what they write of. With limited experience, little time, short attention to details.. Do you even begin to understand what talent and effort it takes for these extraordinary musicians to be booked into these venues? Go back to your video games, "Andrew"..

Your analogy is also rather misleading. Musicians' chance to set things right is called long-term preparation, while a critic has to react swiftly. And in recordings you get retakes, right? Oh, and I hadn't noticed you took Ms Coghlan to be a 'Mrs' - why?

If music critics can't get their facts right, why should we believe anything they say. This was a great concert, which did not deserve this mean spirited and inaccurate review.

For me, the stand-out pieces were the Vinci - Chi mi priega, and Tutti son del materno mid seno. The stunningly sensitive and lyrical accompaniment by the cellist Alessandro Palmeri was perfectly matched to Andreas Scholl's singing. They both deserve special praise for a very special performance. I hope this is available on CD soon.

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