Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nicholas Clapton, Jonathan Watts and Jenny Ward Clarke perform at Dartingon Hall,Devon,UK

Works by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) and Henry Purcell (1659-1695) were performed by countertenor Nicholas Clapton, Jonathan Watts (harpsichord) and Jenny Ward Clarke (Baroque ‘cello) in the Great Hall, Dartington Hall, Devon (UK) July 26, 2009.

Nicholas Clapton was born in Worcester, UK, and has pursued an international career in opera, oratorio and recital. His repertoire includes the heroic castrato repertoire, contemporary music and he has long been a pioneer in the performance of Romantic music for the countertenor. A professor at the Royal College of Music and at the Budapest Academy of Music, Clapton is one of today’s finest and most wide-ranging countertenors.

Welsh-born Jonathan Watts has studied early keyboard techniques but he is equally at home with classical piano works, organ- and harpsichord music. Trained at both Cardiff and Oxford Universities, Watts accompanies singers, instrumentalists and choirs and directs musical theatre.

Jenny Ward Clarke has been a pioneer in the exploration of historical performance practice in England. Also being active in contemporary performance, she was a founding member of The Fires of London and the London Sinfonietta. She has taught at the Menuhin School, Trinity College, the Royal College and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

A fitting opening to the concert was “’Tis Nature’s Voice” from Purcell’s “Hail, Bright Cecilia”, a work set to a poem by the Reverend Nicholas Brady, in which he praises St. Cecilia, music and the instruments of music. “’Tis Nature’s Voice” tells of the affects of music: to move the heart, to “strike the ear”, to garner the emotions and to “captivate the mind”. This was followed by Purcell’s ground bass masterpiece “O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice” (c.1687) translated from a French text by the English poetess Katherine Philips. Purcell’s melody is fashioned over some surprising harmonic changes that color the melodic line and connect it to the text. Clapton’s performance, set against the mesmerizing and mellifluously unrelenting ostinato, draws his listeners into the introverted, sweet sadness and word-painting of the song.

The artists performed two of A. Scarlatti’s secular cantatas – “Clori vezzosa e bella” (Charming, beautiful Chloris) and “Mi ha diviso il cor dal core” (Our hearts are rent asunder) – both works focusing on the anguish of love. Although his reputation rests on his operas, A.Scarlatti’s (some 500 solo voice) cantatas were held in high value by cognoscenti of the time, secular cantatas at that time being more popular in Italy than sacred cantatas, the intimacies of the cantata enabling these erudite listeners to pick up the subtleties present in them. In his program notes, Clapton mentions that most of the A.Scarlatti cantatas would have been sung by castrati “whose inimitably high chest voice would have produced a clarion timbre far more powerful than any falsettist”. Here was a fine opportunity to hear these not-often-enough performed chamber works. Against the descending chromatic scales that spell despair, Clapton is compelling, with the basso continuo adding their melodic line to his expressiveness.

Jonathan Watts played Henry Purcell’s Suite no. 8 in F major Z 669. These eight harpsichord suites were published posthumously in 1696 by Purcell’s widow and Henry Playford and dedicated to Princess Anne of Denmark. The volume includes a table of graces and ornaments used at the time. The four short movements of Suite no. 8 form a suite of simple style and some use “style brise” (“broken style”, an arpeggiated texture in keyboard music suggesting lute figuration.) The final movement, a humble Minuet (taken from the composer’s incidental music to “The Double Dealer” of 1693), gives the top line the melody throughout. Watts’ delicate and articulate reading of the work provided a welcome relief from the heartrending outpourings of most of the vocal works on the program.

The program ended with Henry Purcell’s highly tragic soprano solo “Incassum, Lesbia, rogas” (The Queen’s Epicedium) published in 1695 by Henry Playford as one of “Three Elegies upon the Much Lamented Loss of our Late Most Gracious Queen Mary”. The text is by “Mr. Herbert” (possibly Robert Herbert) but the author of the Latin version is not known. Queen Mary II had been greatly loved by her subjects.
‘The Queen, alas, the Queen of Arcady is dead!
O loss inexpressible!
Not by sighs nor groans,
Nor even the plaintive unquiet sobbing of the heart.
Poor Arcadians, so much you mourn!
The joy of your eyes is torn from your sight,
Never, oh never to return.
Her fixed star shines beyond the heavens.’
Clapton guides his listener through the ornate and passionate declamatory of this epicedium (funeral lament.) The vocal part includes wide leaps and a large range, large both vocally and emotionally. Purcell’s writing is innovative: it is daringly dissonant and he gives the poetic text accessibility through rhythmic shifts. Clapton’s dynamic range and palette of vocal colors give life to both the pastoral imagery as well as to the anger and despair expressed in the work; his pianissimo moments are as moving and dramatic as the fortissimo parts.

As an encore, Purcell’s “An Evening Hymn” on a ground (text William Fuller) provided a tranquil and poignant end to the program.

No comments: