Samuel Arnold: Polly, Aradia Ensemble/Mallon

The runaway success of John Gay’s hugely popular Beggar’s Opera in 1728, mounted by John Rich (they said: “It made Rich gay and Gay rich”) led to an immediate demand for a sequel. But the original was perceived by some as political satire, so Gay’s Polly, conceived the following year, fell victim to the purdah of the day and was not heard until Samuel Arnold revived it half a century later. So what we have here is a fascinating example of the bran-tub of English 18th-century musical styles: ballad tunes that Pepusch originally arranged for Gay in 1729 are here updated by Arnold, who adds both new melodies of his own and Scottish folk songs, all cleverly re-orchestrated. There’s even a Handel march and the famous Trumpet Voluntary borrowed and brought into service for the exotic new story, which takes Polly Peachum to the West Indies to marry an Indian prince – all highly topical at the time of Captain Cook’s voyages.
The short-breathed songs bubble with exuberance and unexpected inventiveness and the performances by the light-voiced soloists of Toronto’s Aradia Ensemble are sparkling. There are some lively dance sequences for the pirates and Indians which could be performed separately. Don’t expect any deep seriousness, but enjoy a vivid example of popular theatre in London in the years after Handel.

Nominated for Irish Times Theatre Awards 2009

“The Opera 2005 chorus sounds enthusiastic if at times a little raw, and the conducting of Kevin Mallon has an expressive alertness and adaptability that more than compensates for some of the rough edges in the orchestral playing.”

Michael Dervin, Irish Times 28 September 2008

“Three performances were given in Cork’s recently refurbished OPERA HOUSE, followed by one in Limerick. The company’s Belfast-born artistic director, Kevin Mallon, was in the pit, and on the opening night (September 23) he demonstrated a real feeling for the powerful lines of Verdi’s sombre creation, drawing excellent playing from his orchestra.”

Ian Fox, Opera Magazine February 2009

Mallon Hailed as “Canada’s Crown Prince of Period Performance”

Mallon’s recording of Handel’s epic oratorio Israel in Egypt, made in association with the Grand River Baroque Festival and recorded in Toronto in January of 2008, has now been released!  The Aradia Ensemble is thrilled to have this volume in its discography, and it is already garnishing a very positive response in the musical community.

“Kevin Mallon is establishing himself very quickly as Canada’s crown prince of period performance. Not that we should forget his Irish roots or his work with the Cork Opera or even the fact that frequently he is invited to guest-conduct standard repertoire and contemporary music. It is, however, the music of the Baroque that Mr. Mallon delivers to our eager ears with great aplomb. Aradia Ensemble is a wonderful grouping of very talented musicians and Mallon’s recent artistic appointment as the director of Grand River Baroque Festival in Ayr, Ontario bodes well for a continuation of this trend. This recording of Handel’s oratorio, second in the minds of the admirers only toMessiah, is a good example of how carefully and sensitively these musicians handle the score. Moreover, the cast of mostly very young soloists provides a uniformly excellent vocal tone, with all of them performing this well known, well loved oratorio with enthusiasm and talent. Though considered a failure in Handel’s times, Israel in Egypt is anything but. Sure, it suffers the usual sins of a Baroque oratorio: repetitions, extensive borrowing from other works and even other composers (I guess today we would call the lengthy quote from Stradella’s Qual Prodigio plagiarism) – but it also delivers stirring and beautiful music, set to some of the most dramatic biblical episodes. Had it been written as an opera, rather than an oratorio, I am sure it would have been Handel’s greatest triumph. With the universally know libretto – 10 plagues, burning bush and parting of the Red Sea – great choruses and some of the best arias, it would have given Aïda a run for its money. As is, it is a great showcase for Aradia’s and Kevin Mallon’s abilities.” 

Mallon successfully concludes his third season as Artistic Director of the Grand River Baroque Festival!

Mallon returned to the festival for a third season as Artistic Director and brought with him Baroque musicians of the highest caliber from across the continent. Performances by Mallon’s critically acclaimed Aradia Ensemble were presented this season alongside concerts by Kitchener’s own Nota Bene Baroque Orchestra, and a vibrant team from Montreal led by Canadian master Cristina Zacharias.

The festivities commenced with a concert illuminating the four main national styles of music in the 17th and 18th centuries: German, Italian, French and English.  A talk from Mallon underlined the uniqueness of each approach, and a reading from Don Quixote brought the music alive for the audience.  These Baroque works were compared with Fratres, the incredibly popular piece by modern-day Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The largest concert of the weekend was a vocal and instrumental performance at Cambridge’s magnificent Central Presbyterian Church (a structure has seen the movements of the Grand River for more than a hundred years).

Kevin Mallon is looking forward to the Festival’s future.  He is keen to connect the festival to the international scene by having the great baroque musicians in the area perform with some of the finest from North America and abroad.

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