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Beautiful orchestration, excellent performances

Les Bougies Baroques excel in Bath under the direction of Ian Peter Bugeja. Review by Albert Storace.

Nicola Said, Clare Ghigo, Cenk Karaferya and Ian Peter Bugeja with Les Bougies Baroques. Photo: Alexander Vann

Nicola Said, Clare Ghigo, Cenk Karaferya and Ian Peter Bugeja with Les Bougies Baroques. Photo: Alexander Vann

The surroundings were ideal: the top floor of this charming museum is dedicated to works by painters from that great period in British art, which blossomed so profusely around 1750-1840.

Characters from paintings by Gainsborough, Ramsay, Zoffany, Stubbs, Reynolds and others gazed down at Les Bougies Baroques, directed by Ian Peter Bugeja and with Colin Scobie as leader, in a concert dubbed Le Siècle des Lumières.

The music performed was all from the first half of this artistic period, the latest being Francesco Azzopardi’s Overture in D (1799), edited by Bertil van Boer.

It was a good idea to acquaint a discerning audience with a Maltese work of considerable value, with a very prominent oboe obbligato part performed by Alexander Koshelev. It was a pity that Bath was in the grip of the recent heatwave which hit England.

When airconditioning is not fully functioning, all instruments suffer in one way or another, whether strings, wind or brass. The oboe was no less affected here and there, but bravely soldiered on with good enough effect.

The initial orchestral piece was Mozart’s ever popular serenade Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. This was crisply phrased, considering the atmospheric circumstances and flowed nicely. I found the minuet was taken at a rather fast pace, and a hiccup at the very beginning of the second statement of the concluding theme was quickly overcome and avoided potential disaster. The work was brought to a very satisfying conclusion.

The other orchestral offering was a rather unusual Haydn. Sober and quite melancholic, his Lamentatione is generally performed in that mood because it has connections with Holy Week, a mood amply conveyed in this reading.

Vocal music did not lack at all and this made an undeniable hit. Turkish counter-tenor Cenk Karaferya sang with great sensitivity the immortal Che faro’ senza Euridice from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

Later, he launched into Mozart’s Al mio ben mi veggio avanti from Ascanio in Alba. His phrasing, diction and control, especially in the latter piece with its coloratura passages, revealed a potential which was not all that clear when I heard him in Mdina last May.

One has to say, though, that the singing stars were the two young women. Mezzo-soprano Clare Ghigo with her sultry, clear voice and one she controls with amazing power and interpretative insight, delighted all present with Se l’augellin sen fugge from Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera.

Intricate passages seem to be no problem to her, and simply hearing her deliver them takes the listener’s breath away. Her perfect diction and the way her facial expressions reflect the music do it all.

That could equally be said of soprano Nicola Said, a true rising star who already has that glamorous appeal peculiar to sopranos.

She has all the above qualities as well, and her striking bravura is there too, of a different kind.

Throughout her performance, it was as if she were deliberately playing with those devilishly difficult runs and throwing them to the wind almost with a shrug. She did all that when she sang Mozart’s Dal tuo gentil sembiante, from Ascanio in Alba. All done with a heady mix of grace and power, with a superbly beautiful, crystalline voice that provoked shouts of “bravo!” and my lone “brava!”

The two women, who sang Gluck’s duet Nel mirar solo i sembianti from Il Parnaso Confuso, were later joined by Karaferya in Di lor ciglia un lampo, which brought to an end the vocal part to great applause.

More of the latter was reserved for Bugeja, who conducted from the fortepiano in Haydn’s three-movement Concerto No. 11 in D, famous for its intricate Rondo all’Ungherese.

This was indeed a work not only expertly performed, but one with a great touch of authenticity. The fortepiano owned by the Holburne Museum is a Schantz, made in Vienna, circa 1795.

It was Haydn’s own favourite make and this instrument is one of only four known to have survived.

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