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August 25, 2013 11:16 pm
Once upon a time, in the dark ages of music-making, orchestras treated the Baroque repertory – if they treated it at all – as if it represented misplaced romanticism minus maximum gush. Then, timidly, came the puristic revolution which reduced performing forces, paid haphazard attention to matters of historic embellishment and concentrated on touch-me-not restraint. Now, at last, we have ensembles that play old scores by the ancient rules, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, yet infuse the challenge with blood-and-gutsy passion.
Take, for example, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which held forth at Lincoln Center on Thursday, offering an all-Handel programme as part of the Mostly Mozart festival. Formed in 1986, this merry British band utilises period instruments (including an inaudible theorbo), avoids the dictatorship of a permanent music director and requires its members to play while standing upright (unless their instruments happen to demand seating).
Timbres tend to emerge open, raw and rough – modern vibratos must be kept in check – and dynamic subtleties tend to get lost in lusty mush. Still, the OAE creates degrees of passion and propulsion that almost make finesse seem an irrelevant anachronism.
The busy maestro in charge on this occasion was Laurence Cummings, who exerted exhausting, also exhaustive, energy while manning the harpsichord. The concert was dedicated to the memory of the fine American mezzo-soprano, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (1954-2006), who frequently collaborated with the OAE at Glyndebourne. Amid orchestral entries, two relative novices ventured bravura arias associated with their illustrious predecessor. The tribute turned out to be notable primarily for wishful singing.
Renata Pokupić imbued excerpts from Giulio Cesare and Hercules with much expressive intensity and little voice. She was, it turned out, indisposed, and she relinquished “Dopo notte” from Ariodante to her brave colleague, Anna Stéphany. In her own repertory, a showpiece from Theodora and a different piece from Giulio Cesare, Stéphany exulted in tasteful flair, vocal warmth obvious promise. Whether she can ultimately rise to the stature of Hunt Lieberson remains, of course, to be heard.
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