Amanda Forsythe; Tyler Duncan; Mireille Lebel; Boston Early Music Festival; Paul O'Dette; Stephen Stubbs
CPO 777 614-2
The Boston Early Music Festival and the German Cpo label have successfully collaborated on five recording projects of early opera so far, including Conradi’s Ariadne, Charpentier’s Acteon, two by Lully - Thésée and Psyché - and this, John Blow’s little-performed masterpiece from the early 1680s, Venus and Adonis. It’s a powerful and economical piece, full of drama, humour, action and, ultimately, deep poignancy.
The performance, co-directed by the legendary lutenists Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, is as close to perfect as one could hope for. Tempos are well-chosen and the small baroque band and chorus are lively and colourful and really dive into the score with emotional intensity. BEMF has a strong Canadian connection and the two Canadian soloists – mezzo Mireille Lebel (Cupid) and baritone Tyler Duncan (Adonis) – both acquit themselves with a combination of beautiful sound and superb attention to text. The third soloist, American soprano Amanda Forsythe, is less appealing, not for lack of drama, but because her sound tends toward the relentlessly steely, not well-suited to the character of Venus. She more than redeems herself, however, in a stunning performance of Blow’s Welcome, ev’ry guest, one of three additional pieces at the end of the recording.
The accompanying booklet is packed full of interesting essays, biographies of everyone involved (even bassoonist Dominic Teresi, of Tafelmusik), full texts and translations. The photos of the original BEMF production of Venus and Adonis give some idea of what a special project this was. How lucky for us that it was recorded so exquisitely for posterity.
Concert Notes: Mireille Lebel can be heard with Tafelmusik in Koerner Hall performances of Handel’s Hercules January 19 to 22. Tyler Duncan performs in Mozart’s Requiem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra January 18 to 22 and will give the premiere of Jeffrey Ryan’s The Whitening of the Ox with New Music Concerts at the Enwave Theatre on January 29.