Christopher Purves sings Handel
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Milton Court, 7 January 2018
Christopher Purves has an enviable ability to sing the most complex musical lines whilst retaining perfect diction, absolute clarity of articulation, and a beautifully stable voice with minimal traces of the vibrato that bedevils so many singers. He also managed the sort of low bass notes that most singers can only manage before breakfast, notably in the gorgeously gentle ‘Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori’ from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. Added to this his outstanding communication skills and his evident ability to absorb and channel, on this occasion, a wide range of different characters – eight in total ranging from Argante, Cosroe and Gabrias via the two different version of Polyphemus/Polifemo to the concluding Hamon, in Esther. My only slight quibble is his habit of turning initial ‘R’s into machine-gun like ‘Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’s’. Having said that, two of those occasions were perfectly apt – ‘I rage, I melt, I burn‘, from Acis and Galatea and ‘Racks, gibbets, sword and fire’ from Theodora.
The always excellent Arcangelo produced several instrumental highlights, the finest also being the most entertaining with Rebecca Miles’s recorder playing in I rage, I melt, I burn. Handel pokes fun at Polyphemus by interpreting his request for “a hundred reeds of decent growth” to make a pipe “for his capacious mouth” with music for the tiniest of recorders, on this occasion whipped from Purves’ inner pocket and passed over to Rebecca Miles to replace her larger version. During ‘Opprest with never ceasing grief’ from Belshazzar, Katharina Spreckelsen added some delightful oboe moments. In their performance of two Handel Concerti Grossi (Op6/5 and Op3/4), leader Cecelia Bernardini and fellow violinist Michael Gurevich and cellist Jonathan Manson excelled. On the down-side, the theorbo player was rather disturbingly anarchic in his use of off-beat rhythms and inappropriately percussive twangs and strums.