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Paul Agnew: 'The treat is only sound'

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See my review of the recital by Paul Agnew and friends, at La Maison Française, in today's Washington Post:

Charles T. Downey, Music review: Les Arts Florissants
Washington Post, September 21, 2011

available at Amazon
H. Purcell, Divine Hymns, Les Arts Florissants, W. Christie
“Music for a while / Shall all your cares beguile,” as English poet John Dryden put it, but who shall beguile the cares of the musicians? Shortly after the Scottish tenor Paul Agnew had sung Henry Purcell’s setting of that text, in a beguiling concert at La Maison Française on Monday night, the harpsichordist accompanying him, Beatrice Martin, felt faint and asked her colleagues to pause the concert in the middle of a dance from Purcell’s G Minor Suite.

Martin and her colleagues, viola da gamba player Anne-Marie Lasla and theorbist Thomas Dunford, recently arrived in the United States with Les Arts Florissants, to perform what is by all accounts a magnificent revival of Lully’s “Atys” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Up to that point, no audible sign of fatigue was evident in Martin, and after the group took an impromptu intermission and reorganized the second half, she played with the same precision and passion as in her magnificent performance at the French Embassy last year. [Continue reading]
Allan Kozinn, It’s Not Easy to Be a Goddess’s Boy Toy (New York Times, September 19)

Charles T. Downey, Ensemble Les Folies Françoises plays with vivacity at La Maison Francaise (Washington Post, March 18, 2010)


Anonymous said...

It's commendable that your review gives such favorable mention to the young lutenist Thomas Dunford, who excelled not only in his solo performances but also in the brilliance and delicacy of his continuo playing. A genuine prodigy at his age (23, he is for sure the next Paul O'Dette. Although the program stated that he was to play the theorbo, he actually played a very fine archlute, an Italian continuo instrument from the baroque era, but with renaissance tuning, which permitted him to play both Dowland and Kapsberger on the same program.

David Boxwell said...

Hey France! Turn on your US embassy's climate control system when you have guests!

Jérémie said...

Dear Sir,

I had until now resisted the urge to comment on your article. It's sad to see that you are seemingly so incapable of listening to music and commenting (intelligently) on it, that you are forced instead to gossip: be it Martin's fainting, or Agnew's would be fall from grace; you then praise Thomas Dunford, feeling it is proof of your insight.

These musicians by no means need any defending!! But for my own peace, let me set things straight.

Where you see Paul Agnew getting slighted in Atys' casting: I see William Christie's long-standing tradition of bringing in new blood, and Les Arts Florissants' mission of teaching the new generations of singers rather than relying on established names; I see Paul Agnew craftily evolving his career from lead singer to second conductor of an ensemble that, up until recently, was so tied up in Christie's fame that even insiders thought it would be folly to try to substitute the conductor. Finally, I see Agnew cast, if not in the lead role, then in the role that is the most famous of the opera (please let me know if you believe "La Scène du Sommeil" is not, indeed, more emblematic than Atys' own parts).

And where you see an alleged "loss of power", I see a desire for intimacy. I heard a singer who gave you one of the most moving, and pure performances of Purcell music: full of contrasts, alternatively gushing or vulnerable or emotive. The point is not to belt a high note for as long as possible, or to scream your guts out. Might I suggest you should stick to Wagner, Verdi and performances at The Met, if those are you're interested in?

Finally, regarding the other artists. How crass to forget about Anne-Marie Lasla! Perhaps you don't have enough points of comparison to realize what an amazing viola da gamba player she is, so let me tell you: she is. Perhaps it would have been more apparent if you'd heard her in a spectacular piece for viol (for instance in May, in Paris, she played a awe inspiring rendition of Marais' Folies), but even so, you have no idea how much her sound enriches the continuo --- in Music for a While, Dunford would not have been able to improvise as much as he did if he could not rely on the powerful and round bass of Lasla's viol.

And while we're on the topic of Thomas Dunford, his talent has been so obvious, for so long, that you no longer have any merit for picking up on it.

I won't comment on your words for Martin --- from your article one would think the only memorable thing about her performance is that she fainted. Let's forget all about the brilliant continuo!

I guess my gripe is that you had a group of all-star musicians, who delivered an uncommonly captivating concert... and you just weren't able to appreciate it. It's sad.