Bridget Cunningham, director of London Early Opera, was the principal contributor to this evocation of Summer. The awkwardly titled but highly skilled group of musicians presented a varied combination of eighteenth-century music enhanced by a spacious acoustic.
Only in the opening presentation of Handel’s Water Music conducted by Patrick Noronha did the nature of the venue present a problem. The selections – two Allegros, a ‘Minuet’ and two ‘Hornpipes’ – often featured the horns, which were placed in front of a large pillar; this resulted in an exciting but overpowering sound being thrown forward. There were also times when violin melodies did not fully strike through above the accompaniment. The music-making was not unstylish but it was disappointing to see the harpsichord unoccupied – its bright timbre might have brightened the grey textures. Strangely, the ‘Air’ was conducted by Cunningham later in the concert.
Balance was immaculate in Orpheus Leander Papafilippou’s fresh reading of ‘Summer’ from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Preceded by violist Nichola Blakey reading the literary description of this Violin Concerto, Cunningham directed from the harpsichord providing a sparkling and sympathetic accompaniment while Papafilippou’s interpretation was refreshingly cool; he achieved a beautiful, sustained pianissimo in the slow movement and expounded the demanding moments with the minimum of fuss, welding them smoothly into the forward flow of the music.
No less stimulating was his approach in the delightful early Haydn. Here, Cunningham was harpsichord soloist and the director. Given the big acoustic, her fine double-manual instrument provided only modest weight of tone but Papafilippou tailored his sound to her dynamics and a convincing blend was achieved. This was an unaffected and stylish reading – the early Haydn trademark of pizzicato accompaniment in the slow movement was clearly defined and the Finale (strangely foreshadowing the ‘Minuet’ from Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik) was full of life. A shame that full enjoyment of the work should have been spoilt by unwanted clapping between movements (an annoyance that did not occur anywhere else during the concert).
Balance did not prove a problem when Cunningham went to the organ console; in fact it was perfectly judged – every strand was clearly audible and, with leader Felicity Broome-Skelton directing, Handel’s ‘Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ was made gracious. The improvisatory descent leading from the rapid second movement to the genial Larghetto typified Cunningham’s affinity with this composer as did the elegance elsewhere.
The arias were interspersed. ‘Solitudine amate’ (1726) from Alessandro is thoughtful and lyrical but those from Deidamia and Giulio Cesare (both 1724) are fiercely dramatic. Anna Gorbachyova was superb, projecting the characters, and the evenness of her timbre was consistent even in the terrifying demands of the high notes. Her approach was entirely ‘in period’ with only a touch of vibrato for expressive purposes, and when in full power the sheer quality of her voice was spine-tingling.