The English Concert with Harry Bicket and Alice Coote at The Wigmore Hall.

Two years ago The English Concert, under Harry Bicket alongside soprano Rosemary Joshua and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, gave a memorable performance of arias and duets by Handel. At the time I described it as an evening of unalloyed pleasure. Last week Bicket was back at the Wigmore Hall, but this time with one of the country’s finest singers, mezzo Alice Coote. Despite stealing the show as Prince Charming in Massenet’s Cendrillon last season with The Royal Opera, she’s not scheduled to sing at either of London’s opera houses in 2012-13, so this opportunity to hear her sing excerpts from two of Handel’s greatest works for the stage, Hercules and Ariodante was not to be missed.

Coote is one of those rare breed of singers who gives her all in performance. She’s not afraid to rake risks, inhabits the roles she undertakes completely, and is above all utterly musical and faithful to the composer’s wishes. For many years I have been an extravagant admirer of hers, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard her give such stunning performances as she did last Wednesday.

Starting with three of Dejanira’s arias from Hercules she ran the entire gamut of emotions. Serene and pensive in ‘The world, when day’s career is run’, she infused each line of text with its own colour and went on to melt the heart with a glorious rendition of ‘Cease ruler of the day’. Her rendition of ‘Where shall I fly?’ as the character descends into madness was as daring as it was breathtaking. Not afraid to exploit all the registers in her voice to the full, she never faltered and seemed to dissolve into insanity before our very eyes. Her performance rightly brought the house down.

After the interval we were treated to three of Ariodante’s arias. Her performances for ENO several years ago were revelatory and here, as she plumbed the depths of emotion in ‘Scherza infida’, and rose to the dizzy heights of ‘Doppe notte’, every run, note and emotion was exemplary. Indeed I can’t remember hearing such a vivacious performance of this joyous aria, complete with dazzling vocal embellishments in the repeat of the first section. She was rightly awarded with a thunderous ovation, and for an encore gave an emotionally taut and introspective reading of Ruggiero’s aria ‘Mi lusingha il dolce affretto' from Alcina. Bicket and the English Concert provided exemplary accompaniment throughout, but the evening belonged to Alice Coote. A truly unforgettable evening.