The 18th century took music to its outer limits. Any doubts on that score were settled early in this, the final concert of the season in CAMA’s Masterseries at the Lobero. Richard Tognetti led his breathtaking ensemble on a wild ride through the entire development of music during this long century of discovery, all the way from the exuberant Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No. 11 of Antonio Vivaldi (1711) to the Symphony No. 44 in E Minor of Joseph Haydn (1771). The Australian Chamber Orchestra, in a gesture toward earlier performance tradition, plays with only the cellists seated, and the rest of the ensemble standing and free to move within the framework of a rough semi-circle. Those who heard the sensational Sejong ensemble with Gil Shaham just a few weeks ago would have recognized this tactic, but perhaps not the added crunch and splash of energy continuously cascading off the ACO. The Vivaldi was plangent and beautiful, easing the audience by degrees toward the electrifying operatic excerpts from George Frideric Handel that were to come.
Even before he opened his mouth to sing, countertenor Andreas Scholl established a commanding presence at the front of the stage. And once he began, the effect was intoxicating. We may be getting used to hearing good countertenors-there have been several excellent ones onstage in Santa Barbara over the last few years-but this was something else. Scholl’s performance was characterized by an uncanny delicacy and precision, yet the effect was natural, without strain or forced exertion. Scholl renders such exotica as the aria “Va tacito e nascosto” from Handel’s Italian opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto in as emotionally present and believable a manner as any verismo staple. And the call and response between Scholl’s voice and the horn of ACO principal Robert Johnson was particularly memorable. But there wasn’t a moment of this fabulous performance that didn’t beg to be held and cherished in the mind’s ear. The standing ovation Scholl received, peppered as it was with hoots and huzzahs, was entirely spontaneous and without reserve. Let’s hope we get to see this phenomenal talent again soon.