Lydia Brotherton, soprano; Jeffrey Cohan, baroque flute; and Stephen Stubbs, baroque guitar and lute: Works by Handel, Vivaldi, Bernier and Hotteterre, Ryerson United Church, January 11, 2015.

We do so much trudging around to review events week in and week out that sometimes we might wish that a concert, for once, would come to us.  Well this time it did, a late afternoon baroque concert at Ryerson United Church, in fact only footsteps from my residence.  Such a pleasure -- just walk out and there you are -- at the initial Vancouver concert of the Salish Seas Early Music Festival.  This featured its organizer, flutist Jeffrey Cohan, young soprano Lydia Brotherton and lutenist Stephen Stubbs, and turned out to be a remarkably intimate and refreshing experience.  The programme featured cantatas by Bernier and Vivaldi, two of Handel’s Nine German Arias, with a delicious piece from Jacques Hotteterre’s  Airs et brunnetes (1721) in between. 

There are many questions of instrumentation connected with these early 18th C. pieces but I found the substitution of the flute for viol and the use of mainly a baroque guitar as continuo more than acceptable.  There were certainly no questions of balance: Lydia Brotherton’s lovely and flexible voice fit particularly well with the selfless mastery of her two experienced compatriots.  Nor would we have expected any difficulties: Cohan is an acknowledged ‘magician’ of the flute, while Stubbs has led by example in early music for three decades, co-founding the Boston Early Music Festival and, more recently, pioneering Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks. We have welcomed him on two occasions already this past fall, performing Monteverdi and Bach for Early Music Vancouver.  Brotherton has performed (and recorded with) Boston Early Music, was a member of Sequentia, and now concentrates her efforts in Berlin.

The two Handel arias are both rejuvenating pieces and I thought the soprano brought a particularly fresh radiance to them.  Perhaps not as supremely controlled and sculpted as the soprano who last did these for us -- Dorothee Mields -- but there was joy and love aplenty here, quite irresistible in its sense of innocence and spontaneity.  The voice is very clean, with considerable mobility and an obvious strength on top, and is certainly capable of exuding a nice range of texture and feeling, including sensual charm.

I perhaps liked the two Cantatas even more.  Brotherton does have a buoyant dramatic sense, and while she might be a little over-eager at times, she is quite compelling in her ability to maintain the length and shape of the dramatic line.  The recitatives are certainly emotional, as we immediately found out in the Vivaldi.  The Bernier cantata is the bigger work and let me acknowledge, first off, just how well the underpinning of Cohan and Stubbs brought out the variety and motion of this work.  The soprano too was able to carry a dramatic involvement throughout, the instrumentalists often providing just the right type of subtle contrast.  Again, I was taken by the genuineness and spontaneity of the singing and just how many little things were done well – the wonderful sharpness of the dramatic projections, the lovely shape and roundness of the lyrical line, the control of dynamics, and the poise.  I can see only the brightest of futures for this young singer. 

The little ‘air’ for flute and baroque guitar by Hotteterre was involving.  Jeffrey Cohan has such quickness and dynamic range, such a keen control of accents, and such mastery at floating the soft limpid phrase that the combination with Stephen Stubbs’ own brand of structural solidity and insight gave us something pretty special indeed.

There should be more late afternoon concerts of this type.  They are such a refreshing ‘time out’ from the rest of your schedule, especially when they involve artistry like this.

© Geoffrey Newman 2015