Picander Ensemble / Thomas, St John's Smith Square, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With the Monteverdi Choir busy in Paris, the Christmas Festival at St John's has the top-end seasonal Baroque field to itself. Well, nearly. As a member of the Monteverdis, the soprano Elin Manahan's Thomas's "premiere" of a rediscovered Bach piece caught many ears during their 2005 Advent concert, and a solo career has since taken off.

Her appearance with the Picander Ensemble stood out in the festival programme for being a non-choral event light on Christmas fare. Her chatty presentations of the cantatas soon got the audience on her side. So did the energy and light precision of her performance, before she floated into a duet with Stephanie-Marie Degand's alertly phrased violin. It's a voice with one colour bright and her expressive variety rests in fine control of dynamics and vibrato. The ensemble continued with a suite of dances from The Fairy Queen, which they tended to take too fast, and Manahan Thomas's return mid-suite lifted the experience into an expressive dimension.

In "Armida abbandonata", that dimension had a more severe test. The cantata centres on a memorable outburst of rage, but this singer doesn't really do anguish and torment.

Manahan Thomas certainly does radiance, however. Hers was the perfect voice for a cantata pastorale by Alessandro Scarlatti, the one nod to the time of year, with a ravishing finale over a drone that ought to make this number a staple of the repertoire.

In the last aria but one, Manahan Thomas suddenly unleashed an upward flourish that made for the evening's one moment of real excitement an indication, perhaps, that she can venture more often outside her comfort zone.

Comments