The marriage of musical scholarship and performing artistry sometimes produces dull and pedantic offspring, but given the right combinations it can give birth to the most elegant and enthralling music imaginable. This happened at the University of Maryland's Memorial Chapel Saturday at the second concert of the Maryland Handel Festival. Harpsichordist Igor Kipnis, soprano Linda Mabbs, countertenor Rene Jacobs and cellist Kenneth Slowik joined forces for a marvelous evening of Handel Harpsichord Suites and vocal duets.
Kipnis is a familiar figure in the world of baroque music, known for a splendid combination of meticulous technique, careful musicianship and dramatic e'lan. Both Mabbs and Slowik are frequent performers in this area and have established reputations for fine, reliable performances. But Jacobs is a newcomer and what a find! His singing has neither the hooty quality associated with Deller nor the sweetness of Oberlin, both well-known countertenors. Instead, his is a strong but flexible instrument, unusually expressive and accurate, and Jacobs uses it with imagination and consummate musicianship.
Together, he and Mabbs gave lucid readings of two duets in the first part of the evening. Their ensemble was a byproduct of a true sense of line and motion. But, in "Se tu non lasci amore," which opened the second half, it was evident that they had warmed up to each other and that, with Jacobs leading the way, Mabbs was following and was singing with much more sensitivity than she had earlier. The ensemble here had an added dimension of emotional sympathy.
Kipnis managed to give each movement of the three suites an individual flavor, to move from stylized posturing to swashbuckling activity and back to academic formality, all with a sense of natural appropriateness. His ornamentation was not only produced with flair but also with a restraint that never let it obscure the integrity of the music itself.