Purcell's King Arthur - Hervé Niquet / Le Concert Spirituel - Barbican, 6 May 2009
I am not as a rule too fond of Purcell's operas, but how can you resist one that features a character with the X-Men-esque name of Cold Genius?
Thanks partly to a well thought-out semi-staging (a distillation of a full staging the ensemble have performed elsewhere), this presentation was considerably less po-faced and reverential than some. The Cold Genius and Cold Chorus wrapped themselves up in woolly hats and scarves - as did the conductor - to be thawed out by the warmth of Cupid's love and Purcell's startlingly avant garde chromatic programme music. And the final act's peasant chorus and harvest celebration was delivered in convincing Zummerzet accents - even by the (French) chorus.
With its copious spoken dialogue relegated to a brief summary in the programme on the eminently sensible grounds that people come to a concert to hear music, it was concise and snappy too. The evening just sped along.
What the Frenchies of Hervé Niquet's period ensemble Le Concert Spirituel lacked in finesse, they made up for in spirit and enthusiasm. Even more impressive than the instrumentalists were the chorus, whose English pronunciation was crisp and faultless. Niquet himself doesn't so much conduct as mime the action like a bonkers Marcel Marceau, carrying all along with him.
The multi-parted soloists Susan Gritton, Anders Dahlin, James Gilchrist, Andrew Foster-Williams and Deborah York were all more than capable - though like the band their enthusiasm left a few rough edges in its wake. Gilchrist and Foster-Williams made their mark with strong characterisations in the comic roles of Comus and Cold Genius. These ultimately had more impact than the limpid charms of the supposed soprano show-stopper, Fairest isle - a reflection of Niquet's mischievous flair for making this 300 year old music speak to a modern audience.