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Concert reviews

Pergolesi, D Scarlatti, Corelli
Carolyn Sampson, soprano (*), James Bowman, alto (#); The King's Consort/Robert King
concert: Utrecht, Oct 30, 2002

GB Pergolesi: Salve Regina in a minor (*); A Corelli: Concerto grosso in F, op. 6,9; D Scarlatti: Salve Regina in G (#); GB Pergolesi: Stabat mater in f (*#)

There are concerts which one tends to forget after some time, and there are those which one remembers for a long time. It can't be a coincidence that all concerts I have heard in which James Bowman was involved, belong to the second category. The concert I attended on Wednesday, Oct 30 in Utrecht will be no exception.
So what is it that makes this singer, who is around for such a long time, still one of the greatest artists in the early music scene? One wonders what to admire most: the state of his voice - which is still glorious -, his skills in interpreting whatever music he is singing, or his strong involvement with all musicians around him, sometimes even 'co-directing' the orchestra with gestures of his hands or eye contact? It must be a combination of all these things, but in the end the charisma of a performer is hard to define.
The programme was pretty familiar: two settings of the Salve Regina by Pergolesi (in a minor) and Domenico Scarlatti respectively, Corelli's Concerto grosso op. 6,9 and Pergolesi's Stabat mater. To be honest, the only reason I didn't want to miss the concert was the involvement of James Bowman. I am not very keen on hearing British baroque orchestras playing Italian music, especially after listening to so many excellent performances by Italian ensembles. But I was pleasantly surprised by the King's Consort's contribution to the concert. For example, in Corelli's Concerto grosso the 'allegro' movements were taken with the right speed, whereas the largo at the start got the slow pace it needs. This resulted in the contrasts which are characteristic of baroque music. Also nice were the ornaments by the players of the 'concertino'.
The concert started with Pergolesi's setting of the Salve Regina in a minor, a quite intimate work, well sung by Carolyn Sampson. She has got a beautiful voice and was able to realise the content and atmosphere of this work. But then - after Corelli - James Bowman came with Domenico Scarlatti's setting of the same text. It is difficult to compare these settings, Scarlatti's being by far the more extraverted and dramatic. There are many similarities with his keyboard sonatas. There are quite a number of contrasts in this work and some very effective pauses, like between "ad te clamamus" and "exsules, fili Evae". One can leave it to James Bowman to make the most out of it. All the differences between these pieces considering, James Bowman was brilliant, whereas Carolyn Sampson was just 'good'. One has to admire the incredible subtlety and delicacy with which James Bowman realises some phrases or just single words. His use of dynamics and the colouring of his voice are still as good as ever. No wonder he got a long applause, with many shouts of approval from the audience. It seems I wasn't the only one who waited for James Bowman to enter the stage.
If I see that Pergolesi's Stabat mater is on the programme I tend to get bored in advance. Not because it isn't great music, but because there are so many recordings and it is so often performed, that one wonders why it has to be performed for the umpteenth time. And there are more disappointing performances and recordings than satisfying ones, let alone really good ones. When one of the soloists isn't fit for the job, the whole performance goes down the drain. In this case I heard a fine performance in which some details could have been done better, but on the whole I thoroughly admired and enjoyed the performance. Where I missed some subtlety in Carolyn Sampson's singing earlier, here she was particularly impressive in the "Vidit suum" which ended with a almost inaudible pianissimo on the words "Dum emisit spiritum." And James Bowman again showed his skills, not only in his harmonious cooperation with Ms Simpson, but also with his rendition of single words, like "lacrimosa" (in the first verse) or "dolentem" (in the duet "Quis est homo").
All musicians involved - in particular James Bowman, as far as I am concerned - thoroughly deserved the long sustained standing ovations from the audience. And let me just add what also impresses me about Mr Bowman: his doesn't act like a star, he gives the impression of being very sincere, concentrating on the music even when he is not singing, and accepting the applause with modesty and grace.

Johan van Veen ( 2002)

Concert reviews