Review: Händel’s Nine German Arias (Early Music Vancouver, Feb. 15)

Like every Early Music Vancouver concert I have attended, this concert provided a thoughtful selection of music performed beautifully. This ensemble, described as “Marc Destrubé and Friends”, was comprised of Canadian, German, Swedish, and American musicians who gathered for this performance. Clearly, Marc Destrubé, artistic director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and an accomplished and versatile violinist (who has described his philosophy as “we play the music of the past as if it was written yesterday”), has similarly talented friends.

Georg Frideric Händel* is thought of mostly in terms of the majestic Messiah oratorio. A few might think of “Water Music”. Handel moved to London in 1712, following King George I, whom he had served when the royal George was a prince, and most of his subsequent work was either orchestral or used English texts. However, the nine German arias, described as “among Händel’s best-kept secrets”, are also from his life in England. The texts are some of the poems of Barthold Heinrich Brockes, who drew inspiration from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes (I thought of trying to find the source passages, but that’s an exercise I will leave to the reader). 

Programme and technical notes

I appreciate that Early Music Vancouver hands out programmes which contain detailed technical notes, as well as lyrics of the arias. Being able to read the lyrics in both German and English as the soprano Dorothee Mields sang them added considerably to my enjoyment (“read in German” is a gross overstatement in my case, but it was possible to follow along). 

One lovely aria is Das zitternde Glanzen der spielenden. The linked English translation differs from the one provided in the programme. EMV translated the title phrase as “the shimmering reflections”, whereas the translator in the linked text uses “the glittering reflections”. In my opinion, “shimmering” is a better choice here, although I like several other word choices.

In addition to the Nine German Arias, the instrumental works, Johann Triemer’s Sonata No.1 in C Major and Händel’s Trio Sonata in B minor, were performed. I lack the technical training required to tease out specific details of the performers’ work that made them so successful, but I particularly noticed the loveliness of the harpsichord and cello. Dorothee Mields is highly acclaimed, and her reputation is deserved. 

I could not find a YouTube version of last night’s ensemble, so I am providing a few arbitrary videos of some performers.

Christopher Bagan, harpsichordist

Dorothee Mields, soprano

Joanna Blendulf, cellist

The production of classical music from any period is an expensive undertaking, and the list of donors that make EMV’s work possible is impressive. EMV’s ticket prices may seem discouraging, but keep in mind that there are various ways to ameliorate this cost. People under 35 are eligible for $18 tickets, while students are eligible for $10 rush tickets. You can bring a young person (under 18) for free with your ticket. If you volunteer, you may be able to get free tickets. 

* Händel’s full name has various spellings, for all three names. I am using what Early Music Vancouver chose. 

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