Andreas Scholl visited Copenhagen this spring. I attended his two concerts with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul McCreesh.
The programme turned out to be both magnificent and problematic.
McCreesh and the orchestra framed Scholl’s performance with two symphonies by Haydn. First the so-called Philosopher (Symphony no. 22, 1764). The symphony opens with a very slow adagio movement with a repetitive pattern. After that follows the three movements of an (for the period) ordinary symphony. I loved the first movement to bits – it had a meditative quality which led me into a deep contemplation of the individual parts and voices of the composition.
Paul McCreesh, a delightful and humouristic musician.
Andreas Scholl opened his part of the concert with Bach’s cantata Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170, 1726). The first aria is a soft treat for the ears while the last aria is a furious tour de force of anger and virtuosity. What lies in between is the in my view rather fragmented and not easily deliverable Wie jammern mich doch die verkehrten which in this case confirmed what had already been looming in the first aria: that Scholl was not in his right spirits or perhaps even in his right element. When he intoned Vergnügte Ruh (the first aria) I felt my palms moisten slightly with nervousness on his behalf. From where I sat I simply could not hear him! Ok, I was not on the first row, actually I was in the rear of the hall, but that rear is known for its good acoustics.Of course Paul McCreesh should have reacted. It wasn’t that the orchestra was playing too loud, but given the circumstance they were. It didn’t help spotting Andreas Scholl’s extremely shaking hands. Poor fellow. I must add that I re-listened to the concert today on the radio – and he was there – and singing quite nicely! Just too bad that a technician has to control the balance between soloist and orchestra to let his voice reach us…I left for intermission with a feeling of disappointment.
The second part of the concert opened with a reinvigorated Scholl. He gave us three perfectly delivered Händel arias that assured me of his on-going capacity in his field.
First O Lord, whose mercies numberless from the oratorio Saul (1738) which left me very moved. The aria is extremely beautiful and sweet and after the nerve wracking Bach it felt so good to hear Scholl’s voice flow freely and melodiously to my ready ears. *sniff*The contemplative piece was followed by the vigourous Such haughty beauties rather move aversions also from Saul and the pantheist prayer What though I trace each herb and flow’r from Solomon (1748). This was the Andreas Scholl I know and love.
Even though the Radio Symphony Orchestra has been practising their baroque technique I still find them to be rather too sluggish in their dynamics. It’s not that they can’t play this repertoire, it’s just that I so missed the vivacity and springiness of a period orchestra. Paul McCreesh did his and so did the musicians, but it’s also a question of habits and dropping the vibrato and two thirds of the colleagues is not enough for a romantic orchestra to transform into a period orchestra.Scholl spoiled us with an encore – the aria Ich will nicht Dich hören from Bach’s Hercules (better known as Bereite dich, Zion from the Christmas Oratorio). Again Scholl turned a bit, just a bit, uneven which leads me to a strange conclusion for a singer who must have been fed with Bach from his childhood – that he doesn’t feel completely relaxed with this composer’s oeuvre. Of course it’s rather daft to make such an extreme conclusion based on two identical concerts, but the difference between Händel and Bach was remarkable. I see from his schedule that he will be performing Vergnügte Ruh and other Bach pieces a lot in the near future. I do hope he will have more success – keep your chin up, Andreas!
The concert closed with another Haydn symphony, no. 101, also know as The Clock. In all this was a more interesting piece than the first Haydn symphony. Either because it just is or because the musicians were more into it. It made me consider how this type of music seems to be systematising silence. Of course the clock movement (the second) is very strict in ordering silence and music, and McCreesh underlined this by at one point letting the music, or the clock, stop, but I think actually that the whole piece and also other symphonies of Haydn are focusing on this foundation of music – the play and order of silence and sound. McCreesh did a wonderful job with this piece.
This was a strange concert, taking me from disappointment and sadness to joy and contentment. Next time Scholl is in Copenhagen I hope he will be singing with a more adequate orchestra and with less fear and trembling. He is after all one of my favourite musicians.