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Corelli at Christmas, Avison Ensemble, Rebecca Bottone, Kings Place, London


Soprano Rebecca Bottone is one of the most versatile performers on the operatic stage today. She gets her charisma from her father, the tenor Bonaventura Bottone, but her chameleon ability is all her own.

Exploits which stick in the memory include her crazy apparition in a flayed-flesh body-stocking in Gyorgy Ligeti’s absurdist fantasy Le grand macabre; her great-coated Forties Tytania in the Garsington production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and her rivetingly comic performance in a medley of soubrette roles in the Linbury revival of Powder Her Face.

So it was interesting to encounter her as herself – well, as a soprano in Baroque recital mode – with the Avison Ensemble at Kings Place.

‘Corelli at Christmas’ was the title, but Bottone sang works by contemporaries of that Italian master. Little is known about Philipp Friedrich Boddecker whose ‘Natus est Jesus’ was the first motet she sang, but that merry hymn to maternity allowed the quality of Bottone’s voice to shine: a pure tone with a carrying edge, and here with an additional hint of comedy.

In Giacomo Carissimi’s ‘Salve, salve, puellule’ she presented a kaleidoscope of moods, subtly dramatizing each one, and she wound up with two cantatas by Georg Philipp Telemann, singing these latter so bewitchingly that one could well understand why Bach venerated that great contemporary to the point of making him godfather to his second son.

How different musical life was then: Telemann’s duties as Kapellmeister entailed the composition of two cantatas for each Sunday, a new Passion each Lent, and other works for civic ceremonies. Compare that with our leading composers’ parsimonious productivity, and constipated is putting it mildly. Most of Carissimi’s musical manuscripts were sold as waste paper: our luminaries preserve even their shopping lists for subsequent veneration in academic libraries.

Another pleasure of this concert was that everything performed was a rarity, but the principal pleasure lay in the Avison Ensemble’s sheer excellence. Their period instrumentation – two violins, a cello, an archlute, plus an organ or harpsichord – was perfectly suited to the Kings Place acoustic, and the works were wittily introduced.

It was ear-opening to hear pieces by Stradella, Domenico Gabrieli, and Giovanni Romano, while Corelli’s Trios were a reminder of what a trail-blazer he was, above all in his setting of ‘La folia’ which Rachmaninov was to rework so magically two centuries later.