An invitation to be present in an 18th Century salon was the unusual format for the third NADSA concert of the season. The Hungarian Ensemble Marquise immediately set the scene by looking the part in period costumes and demeanour. Strange that Judit was walking around, albeit in a serene and sedate fashion, whilst Marta Gal was energetically playing 'Les Barricades Mysterieuses' by Couperin, on the harpsichord; but that was how 'good' music was treated in the 18th century, - it knew its place. Lest we became too stuffy, we the audience were given gentle reminders that, whilst musical performances were taking place, so too could flirting and eating grapes, and upstaging was probably not infrequent.
Composers for the evening ranged from the 14th to the mid 18th Century, so setting it in the 18th century meant nothing jarred the musical senses. There was plenty to wonder at in terms of variety. Only retrospectively did I come to appreciate how meticulously the programme sequence had given us variety of pace and emotion. It also pandered to my curiosity since our first hearing of the male soprano Laszlo Blaskovics was in a duet, and, wanting particularly to listen to the timbre of his voice, I didn't have to wait long. He sang a solo next.
Each member of the ensemble had their chance to shine:- Marta Gal took Daquin's harpsichord solo Le Coucou at a frantic pace which left one in awe; Katalin Kallay on recorder was a delight in variations on Greensleeves [as I've never heard Greensleeves before], and refused to be upstaged in Barsanti's second sonata; and Agnes Kallay wove a more sombre mood with J S Bach's cello suite No 2, Sarabande. Laszlo Blaskovic's dramatic rendering of Sesto's aria from Handel's Giulio Cesare was particularly effective, especially since he is the appropriate gender.
However, Judit Blaskovics-Felszeghy was the star of the show. She looked good, she moved well, and one came to wonder if there was anything she couldn't do as a coloratura soprano! In the aria by Vivaldi 'Di due rai languir costante' she sang with superb control and sensitivity; the well know aria 'Lascia ch'io pianga' from Handel's opera Rinaldo was sung with poise, and was sublime. But also she sang the aria 'Agitata da due venti' from Vivaldi's opera Griselda, somewhat of a coloratura virtuoso piece. During this, one's jaw fair dropped as she boldly executed vocal gymnastics whilst maintaining clarity of tone.
As a crowning glory, there was the duet with Laszlo, from Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea. Expectations were high, but amazingly surpassed with some numbing, tingle-factor singing. The enactment was restrained but poignantly effective, possibly more so because we were relieved from the gender complications encountered with this often 'trouser-role' opera: this was the real thing!
The audience's applause was rewarded by an encore of Monteverdi's duet from 'Poppea'. Superb judgement and artistry to round off an enchanting evening, - and left us with a haunting melody.