The Academy of Ancient Music present themselves as a modest, unassuming bunch on stage. Professionals who have studied hard and continue to develop their art by immersing themselves in the music and practise they love. Their work often feels like music produced in labaratory conditions. A band to be cherished.
They’re currently touring the south of the country with a programme of Correlli, Handel and Pergolesi. I heard the opening night on Thursday last week at Milton Court.
The opening work – Correlli’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.1 in D minor had moments of tenderness in the opening largo, though some of the bass line articulation was lost in the mix during the allegro that followed. The combined dominant bass line masked the interplay between the first and second violin. I wanted to hear the complex articulation across all of the instrumentation but there were times when that was lost.
The balance issues followed during the first two Handel cantatas. Ah! Che troppo ineguali saw soprano Keri Fuge’s competing against the band that needed to dial things back slightly. This sorted itself out towards the end. The addition of counter-tenor Tim Mead for the second of the cantatas – Il Duello Amoroso – helped secure the balance. The line E vanta d’un cor was utterly ravishing.
Such pedantry on my part won’t be applicable come the later gigs in the tour by which time the balance issues will have been ironed out.
Where this concert really came alive was during the second half performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, possibly because first and second violins were sat next to each other. This resulted in a far more sympathetic, supportive and disciplined ensemble. Here the band played with grit and bounce.
Of particular note was complexity of the harmony exposed in the line dum emsit spiritum. Also, the organic quality of the string sound – especially in the pianissimos – contributed to a compelling sense of jeopardy.
Especially high appreciation from me for Tim Mead’s porcelain voice throughout the performance, but in particular during the aria Fa cut portem Christi mortem. Mead sings with a captivating delicacy and precision.
Academy of Ancient Music’s tour of ‘Mortal Voices’ continues on Tuesday 20 February (The Apex, Bury St Edmunds), Friday 23 February (Assembly Rooms, Bath), concluding on Thursday 1 March (Turner Sims Concert Hall)