Early Music Montreal

Friday, June 03, 2005

James Bowman and SMAM

Last night I had the good fortune to be at the concert of SMAM with James Bowman. The concert started with a sonata for 2 violins and continuo by Rosenmüller. It was a lovely piece with nice interplay between the two violin parts, played by Chloe Meyers and Chantal Remillard. They did a second sonata later in the programme, which provided a nice contrast to the vocal pieces.

Next on the programme was Bella region by Giulio Caccini with James Bowman accompanied by Sylvain Bergeron on théorbo. From the first note on, Bowman drew me in to his world. It was wonderful to be a "front seat lady" as I felt Bowman was singing for me. In the vast space of St-Léon, I still felt a sense of intimacy. His voice is full of warmth and conviction. As the last note faded, the spell he cast was complete.

In Monteverdi's motet, Salve Regina, Bowman demonstrated his enormous dynamic range. When he needed power, it was there with total control. In both this piece and the subsequent Vivaldi Stabat Mater, I wondered if those sitting futher back could hear Bowman's pianissimo passages. The balance between him and the orchestra was not always good, with the orchestra overwhelming his voice, at times. St-Léon is a very reverberant church and it takes a lot of restraint to keep the sound from getting muddy. Christopher Jackson conducted from the harpsichord, without his customary pencil. The orchestra played well; I particularly liked the Eja Mater, where the strings provided a very light accompaniment to Bowman's touching interpretation.

After the intermission, we heard Handel's concerto grosso for 2 oboes, bassoon, cello, bass and continuo. Montreal is really blessed with incredible Early Music performers. Washington McClain, Matthew Jennejohn and Suzanne DeSerres are wonderful double reed players and they proved it, yet again, in this performance. It is lovely to hear the colour they add to the strings. I loved the dissonances in the first movement of the piece.

Last on the programme was Pergolesi's Salve Regina. Once again, Bowman demonstrated his mastery of his voice. In Ad te clamamus, it rang out, while in the Et Jesum, it was lyrical. I felt I was listening to a lullaby. In Ad te suspiramus he bound me up in the poignancy he created and his crescendo followed by a fast diminuendo totally swept me up. Again, the orchestra was at times too heavy-handed to allow us to appreciate Bowman's very quiet sections.

We were treated to an encore: an aria from Rondelina. I understand why it is one of Bowman's favourites. Handel's operas, while short on storyline, more than make up for it with the variety and beauty of the music. The aria provided us with another aspect of Bowman's voice. I'ld go hear him again any time.