Purcell Recital - Christophe Rousset, Ann Hallenberg

Salle des concerts, Cité de la Musique, Paris, Tuesday September 29 2020

Ann Hallenberg, mezzo-soprano. Atsushi Sakai, viola da gamba. Karl Nyhlin, lute. Christophe Rousset, harpsichord (Vincent Tibaut, Toulouse, 1691, facsimile by Émile Jobin).

  • If music be the food of love
  • Celia has a thousand charms
  • O solitude, my sweetest choice
  • Suite n° 2 in G minor (Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande)
  • Bess of Bedlam
  • Ah Belinda!
  • Fly swift, ye hours
  • I came, I saw and was undone (The Thraldom)
  • Suite n° 7 in D minor (Allemande, Courante, Hornpipe)
  • From Rosie Bowr's
  • The fatal hour comes on apace
  • Sweeter than roses
  • Music for a while
Encores:
  • Thrice happy lovers
  • Fairest Isle
My first musical event since the Covid-9-related lockdown (and I have no more on the horizon as yet) was also, so I gathered from her Facebook page, Ann Hallenberg's: a recital of Purcell songs with a lute, a viola da gamba, and Christophe Rousset at the harpsichord.

This intimate concert was originally planned to take place in a more intimate setting than the Cité de la Musique's modular concert hall, which can hold up to 1,600 people; but, Covid oblige, it was moved there to allow for the necessary distancing, making for a rather glum and uneasy atmosphere as, all masked, we took our places, scattered around the house.

It can't then have been an easy start for the performers (I might add here that Ann Hallenberg entered on crutches after a hip operation she mentioned online, and sang seated on a high chair), and it took some time for the proper sense of intimacy to take hold, but once it did the effect was magical: once you managed to cast out of your mind the cavernous, gloomy hall, your mask, and the man two rows in front with the maddening nervous habit of running his fingers through his hair, you were somehow drawn into the close quarters of Queen Mary's salon (the subtitle of the recital) for the privilege of hearing some exceptional music making.

Exceptional, because both Christophe Rousset and Ann Hallenberg are mature virtuoso musicians, used, also, to working together. With their colleagues, for each of these relatively delicate pieces, they conjured up an individual world of action and emotion, each in itself like a miniature opera, in a phenomenal display of technique, taste and experience. The parti pris seems to have been deliberately to breathe as much theatrical life into each song as possible; to do this, Ann Hallenberg deployed the fullest imaginable range of vocal expressiveness, playing on dynamics, intonation, vibrato or none, legato and staccato, breathing, accent, tone, timbre, characterization (how many characters did she actually play in the 'mad song' Bess of Bedlam?)... 

It was an astonishing display of artistry, and as people are now used to quite different voice types in the music of this period, falsettos in particular, will probably not have been to everyone's taste. But the applause was loud, there were cheers, and when Rousset announced the final encore, Fairest Isle, an audible Ah! went up from the audience, so I guess most of them liked it.

Covid oblige again, there was no interval, to avoid people mingling in the more confined spaces of the corridors, but there were two lovely 'interludes' in the form of solo suites performed sumptuously by Christophe Rousset on a gorgeous instrument, the exact copy of one in the nearby museum. The only reservation might be that the harpsichord had presumably been chosen for the smaller hall: here, listening required a great deal of concentration. But perhaps that helps explain the silence in the auditorium, from beginning to end. No coughing here!

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