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A Passionate Embrace of Handel

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

George Frideric Handel doesn't usually come across as particularly sexy. Stately, sure. Dignified, without a doubt. But in a fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat concert at the Library of Congress on Saturday night, mezzo Jennifer Larmore and the Ensemble Matheus brushed the dust off Handel and showed that there's more furious, passionate life in baroque music than you might suspect.

Superstar-in-training Larmore was, of course, the focus of the evening -- her many-splendored voice is a thing of beauty, and she dispatched arias by Handel, Vivaldi and Gluck with fearless grace. But the Ensemble Matheus was no mere backup orchestra. Its members may be renowned for their intensive scholarship, but there was nothing prissy or academic about their playing, which was aggressive, vibrant and focused to an absolutely electrifying pitch.

And musical wonders abounded: A performance of Telemann's Concerto in E Minor for flute and recorder (featuring Jean-Marc Goujon) built to such intensity that it ended with a powerful, foot-stamping close by all the players. But things got positively steamy in Vivaldi's Concerto in D for two violins, as violinists Jean-Christophe Spinosi and Laurence Paugam, standing face to face and only inches apart, twined their lines together, broke apart, then came together again, all with a heady intimacy too rarely heard in music.

-- Stephen Brookes

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