A few nights ago I trekked across London to the Barbican Centre again to see Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky sing their hearts out. The two esteemed counter-tenors were singing a programme of Purcell with the lively Ensemble Artaserse accompanying them. I have seen both men perform before, and have always loved the otherworldly sound of the countertenor voice, and as a teen I was obsessed with the phenomenon of castrati in baroque Italy.
The auditorium was full to the brim, the busiest I have ever seen the Barbican. Luckily my super organised mother booked us tickets almost a year ahead, otherwise I’m sure we wouldn’t have got seats. The musicians began the evening with the Bonduca overture, bounteous and jolly. Scholl and Jaroussky sat behind the players walking up to the front of the stage when required to sing. We heard suites, arias, and duets, all perfected and immaculately presented.
Vocally these two singers sound quite different: Jaroussky has a brighter, higher, clearer sound, which is sweet in tone and sounds not dissimilar to a woman’s voice. Scholl’s voice has a darker timbre, which I feel suits the more melancholic arias. This was particularly evident in ‘O Solitude’ and ‘Music for a While’ in which he sang the descending lines with moving phrasing. The Barbican acoustics are dreadful but I also thought Scholl sounded much quieter than usual, and wondered whether he was suffering from a cold or sore throat.
Jaroussky is adorable to watch, and the audience clearly loved him. His voice is so bright it almost sounds electric, and I felt shivers down my spine on the held top notes. His rendition of ‘Bid the Virtues’ from ‘Come, ye sons of Art, away’ was memerising. He accomplished complex vocal acrobatics with clarity and ease and there was some wonderful interplay with the obbligato oboe part.
The duets were the highlight of the evening; there were seven in total. The men were sweet on stage together, working well as a team. Scholl always took the lower part and this unfortunately meant he was occasionally drowned out while Jaroussky soared above with the higher part. They seemed to be having a lot of fun on stage together especially in the more upbeat pieces. ‘Sound the Trumpet’ was brilliant; both singers rose to the challenge of singing this familiar tune. Due to the staggering reception the men came on to do not one, or two, but three encores, including a hilarious final duet where they jumped between their manly low voices and their higher countertenor voices, playing up to the laughter and joking along. It was great fun to watch and a fantastic end to the evening.