LET THE BRIGHT SERAPHIM
Christopher Monks, cond; Elin Manahan Thomas (sop); Crispian Steele-Perkins (tpt); Armonico Consort (period instruments)
SIGNUM SAGCD289 (59:07)
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,
Su le sponde del Tebro.
Trumpet Concerto in D.
Music for the Vauxhall Gardens:
HWV 63, 14, 42, 20, 74.
Overture; Air; Hornpipe.
HWV 57, “Let the Bright Seraphim”
When does an early-music ensemble go Pop? Or Mod for that matter? The answer may well be when it’s Armonico Consort, with its very eclectic and sometimes even bizarre (though they call it “original”) programming, which features themed concerts designed to attract new audiences to classical music. To read the description of their concerts so far, with rubrics such as “Too Hot to Handel,” “Naked Byrd,” or “Monteverdi’s Flying Circus,” one wonders whether this is a revamped branding in order to be hip, or if someone in Britain has gone off the reservation. Whatever one’s view of this sort of advertising, there is little doubt that they have made some impressive achievements, such as founding the AC Academy for interactive music education, which will no doubt assure a bright future for music in England, at least. This disc seems to take a more sedate view, using George Fredrick Handel’s famous aria from
as the title. Here, the ensemble under Christopher Monks partners with soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, both well-known superstars in the early-music world, to create a program of favorites.
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen
is a tried and true soprano display piece, whose final Alleluia is a magnificent
tour de force
for both voice and clarion trumpet, especially since it follows on to the sedate cantus firmus colophon “Sei Lob und Preis” in typically Bachian cantata style. The Scarlatti cantata too is a favorite for sopranos seeking to outdo the great Farinelli, while every trumpeter worth anything has in his or her repertory the Telemann D-Major Trumpet Concerto, with its flashy runs and showy sequences. Where the program departs from the ordinary is with the so-called “Music for the Vauxhall Gardens,” a paean towards the popular outdoors venue in London during the 18th century, where summer concerts were given in a rather impressive pavilion. The five pieces include a sort of greatest hits parade compiled by Steele-Perkins after similar bits and pieces published in the 1740s by John Walsh, concluding with some works from the
, once ascribed to Handel but now probably by one of his subordinates, John Grano (1692-1748), and of course the title aria. As a concert, it is recognizable, even perhaps a bit well worn, since almost all of the pieces have been recorded previously by people such as Steele-Perkins himself and Emma Kirkby.
The result is something that purists might find redundant, though the performances themselves are quite good. Thomas has a nice, vibrant voice that blends well with the period instruments, and the Consort is both in tune and has some nice phrasing in these warhorses, which is the mark of absolute professionalism. Steele-Perkins performs ably for his part, with just enough variability to be able to discern the valveless quality of his natural trumpet, performing the various virtuoso parts with agility and alacrity. My hesitancy in the face of such a performance is that most who are knowledgeable of the period will not find these renditions out of the ordinary, even though they are expert. Moreover, the program itself will only appeal to a certain audience since many listeners will already have equally expert recordings of entire pieces at hand, though perhaps not all on one disc. Still, if one is just beginning to explore either the world of the Baroque, or even classical music at all, this should have some appeal.
Bertil van Boer