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Emma Kirkby at NGA

On Sunday evening, early music soprano Emma Kirkby graced the National Gallery of Art’s West Garden Court with a program titled “Orpheus in England – Dowland and Purcell,” accompanied by whiz lutenist Jakob Lindberg. Both veteran stars of the historically informed performance (HIP) movement, Kirkby and Lindberg utilized discoveries in performance techniques from historical treatises to enhance or even supersede their respective musical intuitions. Rather than vibrato, Kirby makes use of resonance and abrupt curtailing of phrases for purposes of expressivity. Lindberg even performed on a lute still containing its original soundboard, from around 1590, with the wood dating from as early at 1418.

Lindberg mentioned to the audience that manuscripts of the period instruct the performer to play with the fingertips – never with the fingernails – and that those fingertips should be as soft as a “baby’s bottom.” Additionally, the performer should also put their pinkie against the soundboard to perhaps warm the tone of the instrument, leaving the player only four fingers with which to pluck. Lindberg’s solos included Dowland’s Lachrimae -- which Britten used in his work for viola -- which was slow, free, and mellow. His own arrangements for lute of six pieces by Purcell included A New Irish Measure, which had a tune that may now be a Christmas carol; A New Ground, which had a theme that wound lower and lower; and A New Scottish Measure with its flavors of “Loch Lomond.” It is difficult to describe the beauty of Lindberg’s sound beyond it sounding of something between the quietness of a clavichord and sweetness of the harp.

Seated next to Lindberg, Kirkby sang from memory, with meticulously manipulated breath support and diction, gently serenading the audience through about twenty songs that touched upon human themes of love, things “Sweeter than Roses,” and even one song that courted death. Clever texts argued that “tis true you worthy be, yet without love nought worth to me.” What a Sad Fate Is Mine, by an anonymous poet set by Purcell goes as follows:

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Emma Kirkby's delicate and delightful recital (Washington Post, October 27)
My love is my crime;
Or why should he be,
More easy and free
To all than to me?

But if by disdain
He can lessen my pain,
‘Tis all I implore,
To make me love less,
Or himself to love more.
Kirkby, with the help of “English Orfeuses” Dowland and Purcell, brought the texts alive by singing with unpredictable freedom and ornamental agility. Reasonable tempos assisted in facilitating this ornate level of detail given to every phrase. Closing the magical program, Kirkby stood for Purcell’s well-known Music for a While, which featured painted staccato notes on the word “drop” and a melancholic ground bass throughout that ascends chromatically.

The series of fine free concerts at the National Gallery of Art continues this week with a concert of Couperin and Rameau by an ensemble called Masques on Wednesday (October, 12:10 pm, in the West Building's ground floor Lecture Hall) and Till Fellner's fourth concert in his Beethoven piano sonata cycle (November 1, 6:30 pm).

1 comment:

Varun said...

Worst. Concert. Venue. Ever.

And yet, and yet, how she rocked it.