From The Night Watch – “Love Me Tender” – a Baroque-style celebration of love’s intangibility

Vivaldi:  Flute Concerto in G minor “La Notte”, RV439
Handel:  Duet: Che vai pensando folle pensier, HWV184
Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op.3 .no.5  HWV316
JS Bach: Cantata: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit “Actus Tragicus” BWV106
Buxtehude: Wo soll ich fliehen hin?  BuxWV112
Telemann: Concerto for flute in E minor, TWV52:e1

The Night Watch: Singers –
Pepe Becker (soprano) Katherine Hodge (alto) Phillip Collins (tenor), Will King (bass)

Instrumentalists –
Katherine Mackintosh (violin/musical director) Annie Gard (violin) Imogen Granwal (viola da gamba/’cello) Robert Oliver (viola da gamba) Thea Turnbull (viol) George Wills (theorbo/guitar) Kamala Bain (recorder) Theo Small (flute/recorder) Douglas Mews (harpsichord)

Queen Margaret College Hall, Wellington

Sunday, 10 February 2019, 4.00pm

This is a new ensemble in town, ‘The Night Watch’ (after the Rembrandt painting, though both the Martinborough and Wellington concerts were held in daylight hours).  This group is a combo of New Zealand singers and instrumentalists with several Australian baroque instrumentalists from
Sydney. Despite the geography, there was no time separation here; the playing was magnificently co-ordinated and presented, under the direction of Catherine Mackintosh, a veteran of English ensembles The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Academy of Ancient Music and the Purcell Quartet.

Though every work in the programme was denoted in a minor key, the concert was by no means of a predominantly sombre mood.  It began with a delightful flute concerto by Vivaldi, the soloist being Theo Small from Sydney.  “La Notte” must have been written for warm summer nights such as we have been experiencing lately; its effect was not only of somnolence, but also of languor.

Both finesse and exuberance characterised the playing in the allegro that followed the opening largo.The central largo was solemn, but still conveyed to us a feeling of summer heat (it was indeed hot, and rather dark, in the hall).  More gorgeous flute-playing brought to life a jovial allegro which concluded the work.

A spoken introduction to the Handel works followed, and there were more such introductions later in the programme, some clearer and more fully audible than others – it was the first time I had attended a concert there and the hall’s generous acoustic was kinder to the singing than to the spoken voice.

Pepe Becker and Will King both sounded in good form. Pepe Becker is, of course, a seasoned artist, particularly in this style of music, while Will King is a young bass, but his accomplishment in negotiating the florid passages presented to him, with splendid timbre and clarity of words, was astonishing. The singers’ characterisation of the lovers’ tiff was conveyed well.

The Handel concerto grosso was familiar to me from an old recording.  Here, it was played on baroque instruments and had a verve and incisiveness (unknown to Yehudi Menuhin, on the recording!)  A short adagio contained delicious passages,; while the allegro that followed was not only fast but varied. The final allegro featured counterpoint and plenty of subtlety. There were a few misplaced notes, but among so many, what were a few strays?

The Bach cantata demonstrated to me how skill in performing and interpreting baroque music has progressed since I first heard a baroque group in Wellington decades ago.  Kamala Bain’s recorder playing was exquisite.  The theorbo (what a dramtic-looking instrument!) I admit I could barely hear.

The singers came on the platform during the playing. Tenor Phillip Collins proved to have a fine voice for this music and splendid enunciation.There was complex interweaving of the musical lines sung by the male singers.

The alto’s opening notes were not very secure here, but elsewhere her solo revealed her good voice. The harpsichord-and-strings accompaniment was enchanting.  Will King’s solo, as well as illustrating once again his verbal clarity, was accompanied by the women vocalists singing a chorale – most effective.  This was followed by a soprano solo, sung with two recorders, and then a chorale for the four voices, with highly decorated recorder accompaniment.

Buxtehude’s music is not very often performed, yet it was good enough in reputation for J.S. Bach to walk many miles to hear it and meet the composer.The opening of this work was a long solo from bass Will King, who gave it character. It was succeeded by short solos from the two women, and then an extended tenor aria, sung with precision, yet also with animated delivery.

Pepe Becker presented next a lovely, languid, limpid solo, before being joined by alto Katherine Hodge and the men in a chorale, that made me think how much the concert would perhaps have gained from being performed in  church.  Nevertheless, there were advantages in this venue (I’m told parking was one of them!).  A contrapuntal chorus followed, to end a lively, even ecstatic performance.

Telemann, like Vivaldi, has come into prominence in recent decades, with the revival of baroque music in all genres.  The pairing of recorder and flute in this composition was unusual.  The speaker commented that perhaps Telemann was hedging his bets regarding instruments: the recorder was still popular, but it was becoming apparent that the transverse flute was to become more important.

Magical tones emerged from both instruments; together, the sound was delicious, the tones not being as different as one might imagine. Douglas Mews was given no rest; he played in every work, with his usual accuracy, musical sympathy and judicious support – the fast passages were impeccable.  The third movement, largo, had the first the recorder then the flute playing against delightful pizzicato strings.  It all let rip in the presto finale – and Pepe Becker had a change, playing the tambourine.  The faster final flourishes finished a first-class musical feast.



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