The Wigmore Hall patrons turned out in full force to hear the exquisite voice of Venetian contralto Sara Mingardo. Accompanied by the Accademia degli Astrusi, conducted from the ‘cello by Federico Ferri, Mingardo spun a tail that lead us on a journey through 18th century Italian language repertoire, via some well known (Handel, Pergolesi & Vivaldi) and some lesser known (Galuppi, Martini) composers.
Opening with a series of resolved dissonances, Pergolesi’s Salve Regina starts with a haunting movement that works only when both the ensemble and the artist are moving as one, dynamically and emotionally. Mingardo and the players of the Accademia degli Astrusi were perfectly attuned to each other and to the nuances of the piece, with Mingardo’s moves into the chest register particularly compelling. Her messa di vocein the second movement, “Ad te clamamus”, were a masterclass in the art, while the Accademia degli Astrusi made beautiful work of the syncopated orchestration of “Et Jesum, benedictum”.
Concerto a Quattro No.1 in G minor was the first offering from Baldassare Galuppi. Ferri and his team produced a very stately and intimate Grave e adagio, with fiery and vigorous entrances from the continuo in the Spiritoso. The Allegro was a lilting dance in minuet time, and credit must be given to Lorenzo Colitto on first violin for his handling of the more difficult passages. The cantata La Scusa was the second offering from Galuppi, organised into two recitative-aria couplings. Mingardo’s tender treatment of the first aria captivated from the onset, with beautiful phrasing and employing rich changes in dynamic and colour throughout the range.
We returned from the interval to the Concerto a 4 pieno in D by Padre Giovanni Battista Martini. Federico Ferri has been involved in a publishing project relating to Martini’s music, and his direction here is indicative of his understanding both of the score, and of the composer. The Accademia degli Astrusi treated the chromaticism of the central Adagio movement with due care, and we were rewarded with a truly great performance. Handel’s powerful aria “La crudele lontananza” followed, with Mingardo’s voice ringing powerfully in the upper part of the range. Her characterisation here was pure heroic-Handel: strong and passionate.
Rather than retiring from the stage, Mingardo sat at the back as the Accademia degli Astrusi performed Vivaldi’s Concerto madrigalesco in D minor. The opening conjured up and image of the Sun rising across the Venetian Lagoon. At the conclusion of the concerto, Mingardo rose and proceeded to sing the magnificent Nisi Dominus. In the sombre, dark and mysterious fourth movement, “Cum dederit”, Mingardo wove an enchantment that captivated the audience, particularly during the crescendo of the rising chromatic line “fructus ventris” and the sudden pianissimo on the sustained note at the end of the phrase.
The encore was “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s Serse. This seems to be a favourite encore piece for Mingardo, and she performed it with style and elegance, displaying a beautiful legato and an intuitive understanding of the aria’s meaning. The concert was a delight, pure joy to listen to, and one which I would happily attend again. Each piece complimented the others perfectly, and it was nice to hear a piece of Handel I was not familiar with. Both Sara Mingardo and the Accademia degli Astrusi were on top form, and I look forward to their return to the Wigmore Hall.
The first Rosenblatt Recital of the new series saw American tenor Lawrence Brownlee performing songs and arias by Verdi, Poulenc, Moore, Mozart and Rossini. The new venue for the Rosenblatt Recital series, the Wigmore Hall, was packed, all looking forward to the big start to the new season. It was nice to see both the Wigmore Hall and the Rosenblatt regulars in attendance, with a few famous musicians in the audience as well (hello Elizabeth Llewellyn!).
The program began with four of Verdi’s Sei Romanze, the most buoyant of which, Lo spazzacamino, was a humourous tale about a chimney sweep. Brownlee’s spirited performance made this stand out from the rest of the Sei Romanze. After this Italian introduction, Brownlee treated us to some French songs by Poulenc. The beautiful melody of the song “C” sat nicely with Brownlee’s warm voice, while the touching and melancholic Bleuet created a palpable atmosphere in the hall.
Ben Moore’s four American art-songs were, for me, the highlight of the first half of the Recital. Brownlee really got under the skin of the songs, and his ability to bring in a "musical theatre" sound to his vocal production gave a sense of sincerity to the pieces which would have been lacking had they been given a wholly operatic treatment. Both “I would in that sweet bosom be” and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” had Brownlee reaching into the audience, drawing us in with his emotional performance.
The second half of the recital was dominated by Rossini, with one stunning piece of Mozart. “Un aura amorosa” from Così fan tutte was a revelation. Brownlee’s voice was perfect for the aria, his performance a vibrant, sensual outpouring of emotion. The four Rossini arias provided the fireworks for the evening. The terrifyingly athletic “Ah, dov’è il cimento” from Semiramide saw Brownlee vaulting to C5 several times; perform manifold lines of hellish coloratura; and throw in a few plunges of a 10th down to C3. How do you top that? Well you sing Umberto’s Cavatina “O fiamma soave” from La donna del lago, of course! Brownlee gave us more cascading torrents of semi- and demi-semiquavers, perfect in pitch, solid and well supported in delivery.
For me, though, the highlight of the evening was the final aria, “Terra amica, ove respire” from Zelmira. Starting on G4, and reaching C5 in the first five bars, “Terra amica” is definitely not for the ill-prepared! And with 5 D5’s, well, Brownlee can now be crowned the “King of the High D’s”! Brownlee’s encore was a beautiful rendition of the traditional spiritual Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Again, the warmth of Brownlee’s voice, so unexpected in a leggiero tenor, and his story-telling ability, shone through.
In his pre-concert interview with the Rosenblatt Team, Brownlee said that he hopes “to sing more Mozart. (Ferrando, Belmonte, Tito - perhaps a bit later).” I for one would be very happy to see this! A plea: how about taking on Mitradite? “Vado incontro” would be a pleasure to hear in the hands of such a professional, vocally athletic and engaging singer.