Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Pergolesi Stabat Mater, with sacred music from the baroque

Felicity Smith (mezzo soprano)  with Richard Apperley (organ), Rowena Simpson (soprano), Claire Macfarlane (violin), Jenna Pascoe (violin), Michael Joel (viola) and Kat Thompson (cello)

St Peter’s Church, Willis Street

Friday, 2 July 2010

Over recent weeks Felicity Smith has demonstrated her expertise in several periods of music, in a lunch-hour concert in Lower Hutt and at the Concours de Chanson French-language song competition.  Her clear, flexible voice suited the baroque repertoire particularly well.

Accompaniment for the items in the first half was provided by a chamber organ, which made scrumptious sounds under the expert hands of Richard Apperley.  His playing was sublime, and musically supportive.

The opening hymn by Purcell, Lord, what is man? was quite lovely, and gave the audience a taste of what would be a treat throughout the concert: the splendid acoustics of the church.  The voices and instruments equally were able to achieve wonderful tone and resonance.

Schütz‘s two Kleine geistliche Konzerte were delivered with clarity and musicality.

An Evening Hymn by Purcell was given a thoroughly convincing performance by both musicians.  Words were clear and well articulated.

An instrumental interlude followed, with the four string players performing Corelli’s ‘Christmas Concerto’, his concerto grosso in G minor, Op.6 no.8.  This is quite a familiar piece, but normally played by a chamber orchestra.  Here, the use of only four instruments gave great clarity, and the acoustics enhanced the sound so that one did not miss the additional instruments.

Although the players were not using baroque instruments or bows, they played in a baroque style, with not too much vibrato, and bright, strong rhythms.

The work features movements of varying tempi and dynamics, concluding with a lovely, lilting pastorale. This was a very enjoyable performance.

The next work was Première leçon de Tenebres pour le Mercredi Saint by François Couperin.  The singers alternated in singing the verses, the translations for which, as for the Schütz, were printed in the programme.  Again, clarity and sonority were characteristics of the performance.  Trills and runs were expertly executed by both singers, who brought out the word-painting of the composer, and sang appropriately in French Latin rather than the Italianate version to which we are more accustomed.  The string players were always in touch with the nuances and timing of the singers.

The major work, the Pergolesi, occupied the second half of the concert.  A most attractive work which is heard reasonably frequently, it is an astonishing composition for someone who died at 26 years of age.  The organ and strings were superb, both on their own and as accompaniment to the singers, while the latter blended beautifully and took their cues carefully, as did the players.  This was performance of a very high calibre.

The words and their translations were printed, and were marked as to which verses were for soprano, alto, or duo.  Some of the duo movements were quite complex, but appeared to hold no fears for the performers.  The last alto solo revealed good contralto tone from Felicity Smith.  Rowena Simpson’s voice was glorious; she uses her facial resonators well, and one hopes to hear more of her singing.

Throughout, pronunciation and enunciation were excellent.  It was a solemn yet appealing work, with a joyful Amen to finish with.

There was rather a small audience present, which was a great pity; this was  concert of professional standard, in a church with a wonderfully alive sound – but cold!

Felicity should do well in her study at the Royal College of Music in London, for the associated costs this concert was a fund-raiser.  All will wish her well for her future career.

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