Fairy Queen, H. Purcell
Sunday, 20th November 2016, reviewed by H.M.
Purcell's the Fairy Queen is a problematic work to present, either in the opera house or in the concert hall. The melange of song, drama, dance and spectacle is beyond the resources of most professional opera companies and appears most often in summer festivals or as a "gala evening" work. Like many similar works by Lully and Rameau this work was intended to honour and flatter the monarch of the time, and so, as a public celebration of great events, was a highly appropriate choice to mark a choir masters 23 years’ service to one group of musicians - no mean feat! There was much to enjoy in this performance.
In mounting this Masque (a la Messiah) the Rosenethe, under Beetschen's baton, afforded a packed house the rare chance to experience just the music and, therefore, the wonder of Purcell's musical imagination. This is a highly experienced chamber choir whose stage management and concert deportment must be the envy of many a visiting choir director. The more "regal" aspects of the choral writing were very well sung, with a round burnished tone evident in both renditions of "Hail Great Parent" and a real sense of focus and purpose in "They shall be as happy". This is a theatrical work and it is very hard to project character when dressed in concert blacks as there is no context or costume to hide behind. The fairy music was sung with great accuracy but would have benefited from more facial involvement to project character into what is a very large performing space - but then again "tripping" is a hard word to sing over and over again! The Fairy Queen is a lengthy work so the repeats were suppressed which was a shame as the Choral singing was highly engaging.
The playing of the Scottish Bach Players led by Angus Ramsay was simply ravishing - especially the plaintive oboe-playing and the duelling trumpets and drums. Mention must also be made of the solo 1st violin in the symphony to Act IV which was achingly beautiful.
A large "cast" of 6 soloists were presented and the Rosenethe included some younger artists to their credit. Sopranos Sally Carr and Eilidh Thomson both have bright early music voices and were very effective. The tesseturi of the male vocal solos in the work lies very high and the 3 hard-working male soloists batted back and forth, covering a large number of characters with great success. Ashley Turnell's well-produced high tenor borders on the French haute-contre and was very at ease in Purcell's music. Philip Gault (bass) brought his operatic experience to bear in several characterful arias and duets, and Nicholas Hurndall Smith's tenor projected well into the cathedral space. The lion’s share of the solo soprano singing was entrusted to Susan Hamilton. This experienced artist sang this complex music with gloriously honeyed tone - giving a practical lesson in how to point the English text while maintaining a legato line. Her singing of the D minor Plaint in tandem with the oboe was Baroque music- making at its best.
If there was one "faux pas" during the evening it was the removal of the choir and soloists in the Act II Night Scene to behind the choir's raked seating with a consequent loss of words and any communication with the soloists. The excellent Act III's "If loves a sweet passion" and the Coridon and Mopsa duet - with everyone back in front of the audience - redeemed the situation however.
The hard-working conductor/continuo player, Matthew Beetschen, was applauded enthusiastically at the end of the performance by both audience and choir alike. To mark his farewell a presentation was made by Lynn Bowser to honour his 23-year commitment and in gratitude for the large body of work undertaken in that time.