If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to experience music from inside an acoustic instrument like a guitar or a cello, a concert at the Sharon Temple will give you a pretty good idea.
The symmetrical, square 1832 meeting house for the onetime Children of Peace sect is made entirely of wood, plus it has an open attic that further adds to its usefulness as a resonating chamber.
Set in the middle of a leafy refuge in the former town of Sharon, on the northern fringes of Newmarket, the obligatory car ride becomes something like time travel, where the noise, running water and electricity of the modern world vanish as one walks through the tall, breeze-friendly doors.
It’s hard to imagine a more contemplative setting to hear any sort of music. But the structure also makes a wonderful stage set, as visitors to the third of four Music at Sharon concerts experienced on Sunday afternoon.
Co-artistic directors Larry Beckwith and Rick Phillips presented a barely staged performance of Henry Purcell’s late-1680s opera, Dido and Aeneas. The already excellent music turned into something magical in this special place. It’s hard to imagine that the one-act opera was already 150 years old when the first coat of paint was drying on the Temple’s columns.
Despite the fact that this was a relatively informal summertime concert, Beckwith, leading the concert as concertmaster of the five-member period-instrument ensemble, had assembled excellent singers who commanded the free-flowing Temple interior with ease. The lively acoustics allowed every nuance in Purcell’s gorgeous music to come through.
Soprano Meredith Hall was an impressively expressive Dido and was joined by eight other strong and complementary voices. Soprano Teri Dunn was radiant as Belinda. Soprano Virginia Hatfield was also a pleasure.
The orchestra, although tiny, provided just the right amount of support and texture. Cellist Margaret Gay was particularly fine in her continuo duties.
Sets and costumes are practically irrelevant if the music is presented with this much care and conviction — and when the setting already has a lot of character.
The singers filled out the concert with three Purcell favourties.
The programme-opening Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, a four-part anthem written for the funeral of Queen Mary in 1694, made the perfect bookend for Dido’s demise at the end of the opera. Hatfiled sang a lovely rendition of “If love’s sweet passion” from The Fairy Queen, and mezzo Marion Newman solidly delivered the aria “Music for a while,” from Oedipus.
Phillips mentioned after the concert that it had been his and Beckwith’s dream to present Dido and Aeneas since taking over the artistic directorship of the June concert series three seasons ago. The glory of this performance should be an order to get another opera in concert back into the space next year.
There is one more concert left at the Sharon Temple: Next Sunday, pianist Serouj Kradjian presents a recital commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy. That, too, is likely to be worth the drive north. (You can find additional details here.)