Thursday, May 6, 2010

REVIEW: Queen of Baroque - Dame Emma Kirkby (HK DEBUT)

For me, the encores were the best part of the evening.

Tonight, 6th of May, was the Hong Kong debut of Dame Emma Kirkby. The concert with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong under the baton of guest conductor Simon Over performed to a full house at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.

The concert started with Henry Purcell's Suite from The Fairy Queen. It was dull.

Then came Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata BWV199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (My Heart Swims in Blood). Honestly, I hardly noticed the orchestra as I was concentrating on Emma. I had difficulty hearing her. I was not sure whether it was because I was seated at the 4th row from the stage, house left (stage right), while Emma was singing on the stage left (house right); thus the vocal projection may not have worked for my benefit; or her voice was just relatively small. My mind was racing as I try to place the glimpses of sound I was hearing in relation to the recordings I have of her and in relation to other singers. I was not impressed. I was confused.

During the interval, I was lucky to find a friend who had an empty seat (center of the hall, about 10 rows from the stage) beside him, I graciously accepted the opportunity.

The second half started with Franz Josef Haydn's Symphony No. 38 in C major (Echo). In general, it was a fine performance. While there were places that I would have preferred a different treatment, the playing was significantly tighter; and the texture and details were clearer. I do feel that the Andante molto could have been a little bit lighter yet little more cadence.

Emma once again took the stage with two "concert arias", namely Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Nehmt meinen Dank, ihr holden Gonner! K383 and Ch'io mi scordi di te?... Non temer, amato beneK505. This time, after the seat change, I can hear Emma more clearly. While it revealed a voice that remained exquisitely pitched and beautifully refined, I had difficulty matching the voice with the music. First of all, the performance of both pieces were a wee too sulky and slow for my taste, while somehow, I tend to associate these pieces with voices that have a bit more vibrato.

What followed were the encores. Emma performed a total of four pieces composed of Vivaldi (?), Dowland, Campion and Purcell. In Dowland and Campion, Emma was accompanied by Simon on the harpsichord. I can't help but wish that there were more of Emma singing Dowland, Campion, Ford, Hanford or Danyel; and accompanied simply by the harpsichord or better, a lute. It is in these songs that Emma communicated with distinct empathy characterized by her instinctive phrasing and subtle ornamentation. By the time Emma sang Purcell's Dido's Lament, I was mesmerized. I don't care that her voice no longer has that "celestial" quality it used to have, what she brought on stage in Dido's Lament was a voice that was unforced, natural, open and most importantly, honest. Thank you Emma.

For those of you who wants to know more about this wonderful artist, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you check out the below references, especially The South Bank's Show: Emma Kirkby


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