musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

Festival Early Music Utrecht 2016

Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Part One

Rosenmüller: "San Marco Vespers [1]
Gli Angeli Genève/Stephan MacLeod
26 August, TivoliVredenburg

Albinoni: "Albinoni exposed" [2]
Ensemble Masques/Olivier Fortin
27 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

Sances: "Amorous dialogues" [3]
Scherzi Musicali/Nicholas Achten
27 August, Leeuwenbergh

"Intimate Psalms by Rosenmüller and Rigatti" [4]
Gli Angeli Genève/Stephan MacLeod
27 August, Geertekerk

"Cavalli and the early opera" [5]
Philippe Jaroussky, alto; Ensemble Artaserse
27 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Chiaroscuro: Light and darkness in Venice" [6]
Ensemble #Baroques/Laurent Stewart
27 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Sonatas, Canzonas, Balli" [7]
Capriccio Stravagante/Skip Sempé
29 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Zorzi Trombetta and the Doge's blowers" [8]
Les haulz et les bas/Ian Harrison
29 August, Willibrordkerk

Willaert: "Eccellentissimo Adriano" [9]
29 August, Pieterskerk

"Legrenzi and Marcello" [10]
Silvia Frigato, soprano; Collegium Vocale 1704, Collegium 1704/Václav Luks
29 August, TivoliVredenburg

Cavalli: "L'amore innamorato" [11]
Soloists, L'Arpeggiata/Christina Pluhar
30 August, TivoliVredenburg

Rosenmüller: "Cantatas for two basses" [12]
Stephan MacLeod, Benoît Arnould, bass; Gli Angeli Genève
29 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

For many centuries Venice was one of the main cultural and musical centres of Europe. It continuously produced brilliant performers and composers and it also attracted musicians from across the continent who looked for employment or wanted to expand their musical horizon. If one devotes a festival to this city and its musical landscape, it is not hard to find music. The main problem seems to make a representative selection of what was written and/or performed in Venice from the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century. The Festival Early Music Utrecht went even beyond that period: one of the artists in residence was the keyboard player Olga Pashchenko who payed attention to 19th-century keyboard music inspired by Venice.

The opening concert was given by the second artist in residence: Stephan MacLeod. With his ensemble Gli Angeli Genève he performed a programme with music by Johann Rosenmüller [1]. He is an example of a composer from above the Alps - Germany - who settled in Venice. This was largely due to his being accused of a pedosexual offence which made him leaving Leipzig and seeking refuge in Venice. His music bears an unmistakably Italian - even specifically Venetian - stamp which is certainly due to his sojourn in Venice. But even the music he wrote before his Italian period shows the influence of the Italian style. It seems that he had Italian blood in his veins, much alike Handel half a century later. The opening concert was entitled "San Marco Vespers" but that is highly speculative. Rosenmüller's oeuvre is large but - although he seems to have worked in San Marco as a sackbut player - the performance of any of his compositions in the basilica is not documented. His music was very much in demand back home in Germany. That probably has little meaning for the way it is performed. Much of what was in vogue in Italy was enthusiastically embraced in Germany. That includes the important role of cornetts and sackbuts in sacred music, partly with independent parts, as well as various composition techniques, such as the use of echos. Rosenmüller did not compose any Vespers; the psalms and the Magnificat in this performance were taken from a collection edited by Peter Wollny. As these pieces show strong similarities in character and scoring they were well suited to be put together. They were not performed in the way of a liturgical reconstruction but as separate pieces; the performance of each of them was followed by applause from the audience. That is something I don't like; but then, the venue - the large hall of TivoliVredenburg - was hardly the appropriate space for this liturgical music. A church would have been a much more suitable place. As a result the individual voices were a bit underexposed. It was especially the ensemble as a whole which made a strong impression; the balance between voices and instruments was satisfying. The latter were impressive, especially the cornetts and sackbuts, and not to forget Alain De Rudder who played the trumpet in Lauda Jerusalem. In comparison the strings were a bit bland. The dramatic elements in these pieces - for instance in Dixit Dominus - were explored to the full.

The next day the same ensemble put Rosenmüller again in the spotlights [4]. This time it performed smaller-scale pieces, with strings alone, without wind instruments. It included the only piece from Wollny's edition which had been omitted in the opening concert: Nisi Dominus. It is a highly expressive piece which includes a number of general pauses having quite a dramatic effect. As so often Rosenmüller also uses harmony for expressive reasons. This setting was followed by another one, written by the Italian composer Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, who is hardly known but deserves to be if his Dixit Dominus is representative of his oeuvre: it turned out to be a very expressive and incisive work. The other pieces by Rosenmüller, Confitebor tibi Domine, another setting of the Magnificat and a sonata showed the same qualities we noticed in the opening concert, such as a close connection between text and music, an effective variation in the vocal and instrumental scoring and the singling out of specifically important parts of the text. Several of the ensemble's members had solo episodes to sing, such as Alexandra Lewandowska, Alex Potter and Thomas Hobbs, and they gave impressive performances.

The last concert by Gli Angeli Genève was once again devoted to Rosenmüller but then to duets for two basses [12]. In Italy high voices played the main role in opera and often also in sacred music. Relatively little music was given to the bass; it is probably due to Rosenmüller's German roots that in his oeuvre we find various pieces for one or two basses of considerable virtuosity. The programme included two brilliant specimens: Estote fortes in bello (Be strong in the war) and Congregati sunt ("Our enemies have gathered together and they boast of their power"). Both texts are treated in the manner of a battaglia, with its characteristic rhythms and dynamic accents, both in the vocal and the instrumental parts. Franz Tunder was one of the German composers who had embraced the Italian style, as his sacred concerto Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener - the German version of the Nunc dimittis - shows. Schütz's oeuvre also bears the marks of Italian influence but Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, an aria for voice and strings, is an arrangement of a chorale melody. It is not specifically intended for bass; the only modern edition I could consult gives the part to a soprano. An interesting piece is Biber's Laetatus sum which is scored for two basses but includes a virtuosic violin solo which in fact is the third solo voice. There can be little doubt that Biber wrote this part for himself. The ensemble was a bit handicapped by the fact that the second bass, Benoît Arnould, had a sore throat. I couldn't hear the effects but the performers themselves probably did. The only effect I noticed was that the solo items which originally may have been divided between the two singers, were now all taken care of by Stephan MacLeod. Anyway, the performers dealt with the issue very well and this resulted in a very fine concert. I should not forget to mention Leila Schayegh who delivered a brilliant performance of the violin solo in Biber's Laetatus sum.

Some years ago I heard a great concert in this festival which was given by Les hautz et les bas [8], an ensemble of loud wind instruments as they were played in the renaissance. A wind ensemble was very much a matter of prestige in the renaissance and baroque periods. Every imperial or royal court of any repute had such a group at its disposal and so had many towns, for instance the Stadtpfeifer in Germany. Venice could not do without such an ensemble either, and Les hautz et les bas had put together a programme with music from two 15th-century manuscripts which not only include music but also references to instruments and even drawings. One of the manuscripts can be attributed to Zorzi Trombetta da Modon who for a number of years worked as a naval trumpeter and later founded I Piffari del Doge, the Venetian state wind band. The members of the ensemble played the shawm, the bombarde, the slide trumpet and the sackbut; in some pieces percussion was added. Various pieces were performed in several versions, in four, five and six parts. Especially impressive were the six-part pieces in the second half of the programme, for instance Josquin's most famous motet Ave Maria. The repertoire of the Venetian wind band was from across Europe and included pieces by Busnoys and Dunstable, the latter in an arrangement by Bedyngham. In the first part we heard several anonymous pieces, some of them arranged by Ian Harrison. The members of the ensemble made a great impression by their artistry and their mastery of these hard-to-play instruments and their way of presenting the music to the audience. It was much the same electrifying experience as their concert in a previous festival.

One of the attractions of Venice was the polychorality. It is mostly the two Gabrieli's who are associated with the technique of cori spezzati but in fact it was Adrian Willaert who laid the foundation of this style. He is one of the great masters of the late renaissance but that is not reflected in the number of performances and recordings of his oeuvre. Therefore it was of great importance that Cinquecento devoted a concert to some pieces from his large oeuvre [9]. Cinquecento is a small ensemble of up to six singers which indicates that there were no polychoral pieces to be heard. The core of the programme was taken by the Missa Mente tota which is based on a motet by Josquin which was also performed. Unfortunately we didn't hear the whole mass; the Credo was omitted. Instead we heard some plainchant; the reasonings for its inclusion was not given in the liner-notes but it was probably inspired by the fact that these chants were all about the Virgin Mary. That is what the text of Josquin's motet is also about as it ends with a threefold invocation of 'sancta Maria'. In addition two more motets by Willaert were sung and a piece which his nephew Alvise composed at the occasion of his death. It is in Italian and includes references to two famous poets: Vergil and Dante. Text-expression is limited in this repertoire, but now and then one noticed passages where the text is depicted in music, for example, the words "terribilis et fortis" (fearsome and strong) in the motet Deus Creator omnium. Cinquecento delivered a very nice interpretation: the voices blended perfectly and the balance between the voice groups was ideal. Thanks to the smooth and very natural legato of the singers these performances got a wonderful flow: that can be boring but it was not thanks to the wonderful music of Willaert and the differentiated interpretation with carefully dosed dynamic shading.

Two composers of the 17th century were in the centre of concerts by Scherzi Musicali and the Ensemble #Baroques. The former, directed by Nicholas Achten, paid attention to Giovanni Felice Sances [3] who has become best known for his setting of the Stabat mater. Scherzi Musicali presented a programme of secular music with the title of "Amorous dialogues". However, although the programme included various pieces for two voices - alongside some solos - only three were genuine dialogues between different protagonists. In L’infortunio d’Angelica one of the roles is that of a testo, which we know from, for instance, Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, but also from the oratorios of Carissimi. It also includes various passages with the indication coro which are scored for the three voices together. In Tirsi morir volea the role of the testo is given the name of Festauro. Both parts were sung by Nicholas Achten, a multitalent who sings as a baritone and also plays theorbo, harp and keyboard, mostly accompanying himself. He has a light and flexible voice which reminds me of Marco Beasley's. The testo parts came off very naturally, with logical and stylish ornaments, but sometimes I wondered whether at least some moments may have been sung with a bit more weight. Overall it was a good performance but the soprano Deborah Cachet was a little too loud and too straightforward whereas the tenor Jean-François Novelli had too little presence and was a bit short on drama. It seems that more could have been made of this programme.

In the title of their concert Laurent Stewart and his Ensemble #Baroque [6] referred to chiaroscuro, a term originally used in painting to describe the contrast between light and shadow as we find it, for instance, in the paintings of Rembrandt. It was used to create a dramatic effect and that is the reason this term is also applied to music, in particular the Italian music of the 17th century which roots in the stylus phantasticus with its contrasting episodes. It can hardly come as a surprise that Barbara Strozzi, the singer and composer who attracted so much attention in her own time, was the central figure in the programme. Her cantatas and arias are often highly emotional and dramatic. That certainly goes for Tradimento and the dramatic scene Su'l Rodano severo. No less impressive were pieces by the other composers on the programme, in particular Nicola Fontei, who was represented with a fragment from his Pianto d'Erinna. Such pieces make great demands on the theatrical skills of the performer. Dagmar Saskova left nothing to be desired in her interpretations. With her strong, flexible and colourful voice she fully explored the dramatic aspects of the chosen repertoire. The vocal items were alternated with instrumental pieces by Legrenzi and Rosenmüller, beautifully played by the violinists Odile Édouard and Benjamin Chénier.

Opera took a central place in Venetian musical life of the 17th century. It was here that the first public opera house opened and it was in particular Francesco Cavalli who used the opportunity to present his operas to a large audience. He was very successful which resulted in his enjoying considerable wealth. Two concerts gave an impression of what was presented at the opera scene. Christina Pluhar selected a number of arias and instrumental pieces from various Cavalli operas for a concert under the title of "L'amore innamorato" [11]. The main vocal parts were taken by Nuria Rial and Giuseppina Bridelli. The former had the more intimate pieces to sing which suits her voice and probably also her personality. Bridelli took care of the more dramatic stuff and her theatrical approach was exactly right. Stylistically she was less convincing, especially because a sometimes pretty large vibrato crept in. The alto's Vincenzo Capezzuto and Jakub Józef Orlínsk played a rather modest role but contributed effectively to the success of this concert. I was rather sceptical about this event at first, thinking of Pluhar's most dreadful performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in last year's festival. But this time she behaved well. Cavalli's librettos include some rather dreadfull texts but that is not Pluhar's fault (although I suspect she rather likes them).

Philippe Jaroussky and his ensemble Artaserse devoted their concert to Cavalli and the early opera [5]. They had selected extracts from operas by Cavalli and from stage works by Pietro Antonio Cesti, Luigi Rossi, Giovanni Legrenzi and Agostino Steffani. There was plenty of variety in the character of the various arias. There were lamentos - for instance the magnificent 'Lasciate averno' from Luigi Rossi's L'Orfeo and the moving Lamento di Polemone by Cesti - but also rage arias and more ironic pieces. Such a program can work very fragmented when each piece is presented separately and is followed by applause. Obviously Jaroussky wanted to avoid that, and the various arias were welded together by instrumental pieces or short transitional passages. The disadvantage is that individual pieces do not get the chance to really sink in and especially in the case of the lamentos that was a clear disadvantage of this approach. But that's the price you pay when fragments are extracted from operas. Jaroussky fully lived up to his reputation. Each aria received a poignant and engaging interpretation. The intimate and sad arias came off best by far. By nature Jaroussky hasn't got a very strong voice, but that is compensated for by a lot of nuance and colour and these qualities are especially appropriate in such repertoire. In those arias in which the protagonist vents his anger he was less convincing. I had the feeling that he had to force himself in loud passages; it resulted in his voice sounding less pleasant and too much vibrato creeping in. Even so, this concert will undoubtedly go down in the history of this festival as one of its highlights.

One of the features of Italian music of the 17th century is the coexistence of old and new, in particular in sacred and in instrumental music. The latter was documented in a concert by Capriccio Stravagante, directed by Skip Sempé [7]. The largest part of the programme was devoted to music for specific instruments - in this case violins - and bc. There were also pieces which can be played on any instrument - which means that they are less idiomatic - and pieces which reflect the stile antico in which all parts are treated on equal footing. The latter part of the programme was performed with four recorders, playing as a consort. The pieces came under the names of sonata and canzona but that in itself doesn't tell us much about their character. The players delivered fine performances of pieces by the likes of Marini, Fontana, Riccio, Salomone Rossi and once again Rosenmüller.

A concert by the Ensemble Masques, directed by Olivier Fortin [2], showed that the coexistence of old and new continued well into the 18th century. The programme was devoted to Tomaso Albinoni; he is certainly not an unknown quantity but his music is not exactly standard repertoire. In this concert we heard three sonatas from his opus 2, scored for two violins, two violas and bc. Although the liner-notes stated that emotionally Albinoni shows some restraint here there was no lack of expression, especially in the slow movements. Counterpoint takes an important place in his oeuvre and that came to the fore in the fugal movements. This concert was a convincing case for a relatively 'forgotten' composer. There was a time he was quite famous but then only because of one piece: the 'Adagio for Organ and Strings', as it was commonly called. It was a hit in the days of the traditional performance practice but has been banned by historical performance practice as it is in fact a new work by Remo Giazotto. He suggested that it is based on a theme by Albinoni but that is doubtful. It was - perhaps as a gimmick - played during this concert. Especially a performance on period instruments reveals how little this adagio has to do with the real Albinoni or even with baroque music. It is an example of the old-fashioned romantic view on the baroque period. Fortunately the time that this was communis opinio has long gone. Today we can enjoy such outstanding performances as here from the Ensemble Masques.

Albinoni also opened the concert of the Collegium 1704 with its Collegium Vocale, directed by Václav Luks [10]. The Sinfonia in g minor was the first piece in an ambitious programme which also included a dramatic cantata and three of the Psalms from Estro poetico-armonico by Benedetto Marcello. That was only the first part. In the second we should hear three Vesper Psalms by Legrenzi and the Missa Vide Domine laborem by Antonio Lotti. It seemed to me impossible to perform this programme within the time which was allotted to this concert. And so it turned out to be: the first part lasted almost 90 minutes and as a result the second part had to be cut down to just one of Legrenzi's Psalms and the Gloria from Lotti's Mass. That was a big shame: the latter is an excellent piece which included a very expressive setting of "et in terra pax" and a brilliant "Domine Deus" for soprano and obbligato violin, wonderfully sung by Silvia Frigato. This Gloria confirms the impression given by his settings of the Crucifixus - for which he is best known - that he is a most interesting and worthwhile composer who deserves much more attention. Silvia Frigato was also the soloist in the dramatic cantata Arianna abbandonata by Marcello which comprises two pairs of recitative and aria. The recitatives are very dramatic but the arias are also much more than just vehicles for the soloist to show her skills. Silvia Frigato delivered a highly theatrical performance in which the strong feelings of the protagonist came off to the full. This is a real pocket-size opera and that is the way it was performed. Marcello's Psalm settings - on paraphrases of the biblical Psalms in Italian by the poet Girolamo Ascanio Giustiniani - are very peculiar works which idiomatically have little in common with what was composed at the time. According to the liner-notes they are for "mixed choir" but that is questionable, especially as some - for instance two of the three performed in this concert - are scored for three voices. That suggests a performance with solo voices. Luks opted for a line-up of three voices per part, with members of the vocal ensemble taking care of those passages which are clearly intended for a solo voice. Despite my reservations in regard to the line-up and the general disappointment about the poor planning of the programme this was a most interesting and musically compelling event in which all participants delivered outstanding performances.

Part Two

"Claudio Merulo on harpsichord" [13]
Marco Mencoboni, harpsichord
27 August, Lutheran Church

"The Gabrielis at the keyboard" [14]
Rinaldo Alessandrini, harpsichord
29 August, Lutheran Church

"Galuppi at the harpsichord" [15]
Francesco Corti, harpsichord
30 August, Lutheran Church

"Galuppis Concertos" [16]
Collegium Marianum/Jana Semerádová
31 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Between Republic and Absolute Monarchy" [17]
Carole Cerasi, harpsichord
31 August, Lutheran Church

Cavalli: "Vespers" [18]
Concerto Palatino/Bruce Dickey
31 August, TivoliVredenburg

"Legrenzi in Consort" [19]
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier; L'Achéron/François Joubert-Caillet
31 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Giovanni Picchi" [20]
Javier Núñez, harpsichord
1 Sept, Lutheran Church

"Galuppi's motets" [21]
Francesca Boncompagni, soprano; Les Musiciens du Louvre/Francesco Corti
1 Sept, Geertekerk

"Venetian Consort Music" [22]
Il Suonar Parlante/Vittorio Ghielmi
2 Sept, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Cristofori's fortepiano" [23]
Luca Guglielmi, fortepiano
2 Sept, Lutheran Church

Every edition of the festival has a series of keyboard recitals. That certainly made sense this year, especially as the keyboard music from Venice is far less known than especially the keyboard oeuvre of Girolamo Frescobali. The first installments of this series demonstrated the importance of the developments in Venice for the history of keyboard music.

Marco Mencoboni [13] opened the proceedings with a programme of keyboard music on the brink of renaissance and baroque. He opened his recital with two dances which are the most common forms of instrumental music of the renaissance, both anonymous and included in an edition printed in Venice in 1551. Among the main composers of keyboard music of the 16th century are Marco Antonio Cavazzoni and his son Girolamo. They were represented with two other important genres: an arrangement of a chanson and a ricercar respectively. The main composer in the programme was Claudio Merulo who for more than 25 years played the organs in San Marco. Mencoboni had selected several items of various genres from his oeuvre. Especially interesting were two toccatas which are quite different in character: the Toccata I del primo tono is relatively simple but the Toccata I dell’undecimo detto quinto tono is a long and quite virtuosic piece which points in the direction of Frescobaldi. Mencoboni delivered a very good performance in which the polyphony came off with great clarity but which also emphasized the dramatic aspects of this repertoire, in particular in the last mentioned toccata by Merulo.

The Gabrielis are first and foremost associated with vocal music, and in particular polychoral works. Their keyboard oeuvre is largely ignored. Rinaldo Alessandrini [14] spent a large part of his recital to that part of their output. It has to be reckoned among the highlights of Italian keyboard music. We heard specimens of the main forms, such as canzona, ricercare and fantasia as well as the pass'è mezzo. The latter is one of the most brilliant genres: Alessandrini opened with a particularly fine specimen by Marco Facoli. Unfortunately there were quite a number of mishits in this piece but that was not a bad omen; Alessandrini's playing was generally quite good but could have been rhythmically a little sharper and more pronounced. The dances were given a good rhythmical profile and Alessandrini ended with an engaging performance of Giovanni Picchi's only Toccata.

The same piece was also played by Javier Núñez [20] who devoted a large part of his recital to this composer who is different from most of his contemporary keyboard composers in that almost his whole keyboard oeuvre consists of dances. I felt that Núñez showed a little more restraint; the Toccata was a bit slower and performed with a bit less freedom. That is no reason for criticism: there are more ways than just one to perform this repertoire. Núñez delivered a very compelling recital; the rhythmic pulse was excellent and as a listener one really experienced these pieces like dances. Very interesting was the confrontation with pieces by representatives of the Neapolitan school: Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Giovanni de Macque and Ascanio Mayone. Among their features are harmonic experiments; for some time Macque was in the service of the Gesualdo family. There is an undeniable link between the keyboard music of the Neapolitan school and Gesualdo's madrigals. In this concert it was in Trabaci's Consonanze stravaganti we could hear unusual harmonic patterns. Núñez ended with a beautiful interpretation of Follia by Storace. His recital was undoubtedly one of the highlights in the keyboard series.

Carole Cerasi also played music by Storace which was juxtaposed to pieces by Jean-Henry d'Anglebert [17]. As interesting as the confrontation between an Italian and a French composer was I couldn't quite figure out the raison d'être of the programme in this festival. Its title, "Between Republic and Absolute Monarchy", didn't make things any clearer. Moreover, Storace is in no way connected to Venice; he worked all his life in Sicily. His only extant collection of music was published in Venice, and Cerasi wrote in her programme notes that stylistically he was closer to the north Italian style than to what was composed in southern Italy. In her recital she took very swift tempi, often at the cost of a clear articulation. Some more breathings spaces would not have been amiss. She played two harpsichords, a French and an Italian instrument. To my surprise she also played two pieces by Storace on the French instrument. That didn't sound very badly but the Italian harpsichord would have been better suited for these pieces. The items by D'Anglebert - including the Tombeau de Mr de Chambonnières (who probably was his teacher) and two chaconnes - came off best. Some Storace pieces were a bit disappointing, especially the Ballo della battaglia which opened the programme.

Keyboard music from the mid-18th century is not always appreciated, with the exception of the oeuvre by two Bach sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. And it is true that some music was produced which is not really interesting, with endless repeats of Alberti basses or drum basses and a complete dominance of the right hand. Having heard recently quite a lot of keyboard music by Galuppi I have come to the conclusion that most of it is clearly above the average and much is even quite good. It probably depends on the interpreter whether it makes any impression. In that regard we were well served by two fine keyboard players. Francesco Corti [15] mixed sonatas by Galuppi with a sonata by Johann Adolf Hasse and two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. The inclusion of the latter made much sense as Scarlatti's influence clearly manifested itself in some of the sonatas Corti had selected, especially the Sonata in A (R.A. 1.14.02) which ended the recital; here Galuppi makes use of the technique of the crossing of the hands. Hasse is almost exclusively known for his music for the stage but also left a small keyboard oeuvre. Corti played the Sonata in d minor, op. 7,5 which shows the influence of the French style, in particular in the adagio. Corti argued eloquently in favour of Galuppi's keyboard sonatas.

The same did Luca Guglielmi [23] who came up with one of the most interesting programmes in the series of keyboard recitals. He had selected sonatas by three composers who were born and/or had received their musical education in Venice: Giovanni Benedetto Platti, Galuppi and Andrea Lucchesi. The first and the last worked for most of their life in Germany. In his programme notes Guglielmi underlined the elements in their respective sonatas which refer to the keyboard works of Haydn and Mozart. That was the reason he chose a fortepiano for his recital. He played a copy of the first specimen of this instrument, built by Bartolomeo Cristofori. There are also historical reasons for this choice: some Italian composers seem to have had a strong interest in this new instrument. It has been suggested that Platti may have played a role in the dissemination of the fortepiano to Germany. He enjoys increasing interest lately which has resulted in a number of recordings of his chamber music and keyboard sonatas. That is probably also due to the growing awareness that he is an important link between the baroque and classical periods. The two sonatas Guglielmi had chosen came off very convincingly on the Cristofori, also thanks to the engaging performance. Galuppi's keyboard works seem not to require a specific instrument. However, Guglielmi played the Divertimento in A which indicates some dynamic markings. This suggests that the fortepiano (or the clavichord) is at least an option. The last piece was the Sonata in D, op. 1,6 by Lucchesi, probably the most 'classical' piece in the programme. It is also a quite virtuosic piece which was given an outstanding performance. Guglielmi proved once again that he is a creative player who likes to perform less obvious repertoire. He combines an impeccable technique with a good sense of style.

Consort music is almost exclusively associated with the English renaissance. But as I already noted in my review of the concert by Capriccio Stravagante [7] some instrumental music was still played by a consort of instruments in 17th-century Italy. That part of performance practice was more specifically documented by two further concerts. In a concert by the viol consort L'Achéron and the vocal ensemble Vox Luminis we heard the consort in two roles [19]. On the one hand L'Achéron played four short pieces and a sonata by Biagio Marini as well as two sonatas by Legrenzi, one of the few composers who in some of his works specifically referred to a consort of viole da gamba. On the other hand the viols supported the singers in a Salve Regina by Sances and a Dies irae by Legrenzi. The latter is scored for eight voices and includes several episodes for one or several solo voices. It is a very fine work and for me the vocal music of Legrenzi was one of the main discoveries of this festival. The cooperation of the two ensembles was excellent: they are on the same wavelength and there was a perfect balance between the voices and the instruments. It is good to notice that their collaberation will continue.

The next day Il Suonar Parlante, directed by Vittorio Ghielmi [22], devoted a concert to "Venetian consort music", with two sonatas by Legrenzi which have the addition a 4 viole da gamba o come piace. This means that the viole da gamba are first choice but can be replaced by other instruments, for instance members of the violin family. Very little music is specifically written for a consort of viols but Ghielmi argued that many keyboard works can be perfectly performed by a consort of several instruments. That was demonstrated with four keyboard pieces by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. The programme was quite interesting but I was disappointed by the performances. That was largely due to the not so beautiful sound Ghielmi produced on his treble viol. He even used it in what is probably Dario Castello's best-known composition, the Sonata II a soprano solo. It is usually played on the violin (or on the recorder) and it works much better that way. The treble viol was unsatisfying and I also doubt whether this instrument was ever used in a solo role at the time. What a difference between this concert and the performances of L'Achéron. The best part of this concert was an intabulation of pieces from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo which was given a fine performance by Margret Köll (harp) and Luca Pianca (lute).

Cavalli played an important role in this festival's programme. Philippe Jaroussky and Christina Pluhar both shed light on his operatic output. But we should not forget that for most of his life Cavalli worked in the church and composed quite a lot of sacred music. In 1995 Harmonia mundi released a recording of Vesper music taken from the collection Musiche sacre of 1656. It was performed by Concerto Palatino under the direction of Bruce Dickey. They were responsible for the performance of these Vespers in the festival this year [18]. The venue - the large hall of TivoliVredenburg - was not ideal but at least offered the possibility to place the two vocal and instrumental choirs separately at the platform. The vocal parts were sung by some of the best singers in the business: Monica Piccinini, Sabine Lutzenberger, Marcel Beekman, David Munderloh, Charles Daniels, Jan Van Elsacker, Harry van der Kamp and Tim Scott Whiteley. With a line-up like that little can go wrong. It was a fabulous performance in which the singers displayed the full quality of Cavalli's music, both individually in the solo episodes as well as together in ensemble. There was also some brilliant playing from the wind and the strings. They had no problems in filling the space; even the two violins were clearly audible. Unfortunately the audience applauded every single piece which damaged the coherence and the flow of the music.

Let's turn to Galuppi once again. The Collegium Marianum from Prague, directed by Jana Semerádová [16], performed a concert which included three works for instrumental ensemble. It opened with Galuppi's Flute Concerto in D which is a rather compact piece which is clearly different from the concertos by his predecessor in Venice, Vivaldi. It is not in the baroque idiom anymore but shows some traces of the early classical style. The Concerto a quattro in c minor points in the direction of the string quartet. In the Flute Concerto in D by the Bohemian composer Frantisek Jiránek Vivaldi's influence is very notable. His employer sent him to Italy and he may have been Vivaldi's pupil. The ensemble also played a Violin concerto in D which is attributed to Vivaldi as well as Jiránek. It seems possible that the latter composed it under the spell of his teacher - or maybe even under his guidance, with Vivaldi correcting some passages? Anyway, it is an interesting piece which received an outstanding performance by one of the members of the ensemble. Jana Semerádová was the soloist in the three flute concertos in the programme, including Vivaldi's concerto with the nickname La notte which received a quite theatrical performance.

Galuppi not only composed much music for the stage, he also contributed to the genre of sacred music. Francesco Corti directed Les Musiciens du Louvre [21] in a programme around two antiphons by Galuppi, Ave regina coelorum and Alma redemptoris mater which date from the 1770s. They are in the form of a motet as we know it from Vivaldi's oeuvre: a sequence of recitatives and arias. These turned out to be very operatic in character: the recitatives are dramatic and the arias are vehicles for the singer to show her skills. They require a large tessitura; at several moments the singer has to explore the upper range of her voice. The arias also include staccato passages which would become fashionable in late 18th-century opera. I find such pieces hard to swallow, just like so much sacred music of the time. That was made even harder by Francesca Boncompagni. I have nothing but admiration for her technical skills in the interpretation of these virtuosic arias but stylistically it was very disappointing. It was hard to understand the text and her singing was marred by an incessant and pretty wide vibrato. The concert ended with Vivaldi's motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera. There was little to enjoy here too. I heard this piece for the first time in a recording by good old Emma Kirkby. Give me that performance any time rather than what we got in this concert.

Part Three

"Petrucci's Harmonice Musices Odhecaton" [24]
Les Flamboyants/Michael Form
31 August, Leeuwenbergh

"The Sacrae Cantiones by Andrea Gabrieli" [25]
Cantica Symphonia/Giuseppe Maletto
31 August, Pieterskerk

"Albinoni & Bach" [26]
Leila Schayegh, violin; Jörg Halubek, harpsichord
1 Sept, University Assembly Hall

"The World of Monteverdi" [27]
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier; Capriccio Stravagante Renaissance Orchestra/Skip Sempé
1 Sept, TivoliVredenburg

"At the crossroads of East and West" [28]
Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas
2 Sept, St Willibrordkerk

"Willaert's Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus" [29]
Officium Ensemble/Pedro Teixeira
2 Sept, Pieterskerk

Monteverdi: Tancredi e Clorinda [30]
Cantar Lontano/Marco Mencoboni
2 Sept, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Lute Songs by Francesco Bosniaco" [31]
Roberta Mameli, soprano; Eduardo Egüez, lute
2 Sept, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

"Castello and Bassano" [32]
Erik Bosgraaf, recorder; Francesco Corti, harpsichord
3 Sept, Geertekerk

"Plainchant from San Marco" [33]
Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard
3 Sept, Pieterskerk

"Willaert's Flemish roots" [34]
Cappella Pratensis/Stratton Bull
3 Sept, Jacobikerk

"Charpentier in Italy" [35]
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé
3 Sept, TivoliVredenburg

One of the reasons - and certainly not the least - that Venice was one of the main music centres of Europe was the art of music printing which had been developed here by Ottaviano Petrucci. In 1501 he published the very first collection of polyphonic music in history, Odhecaton. It comprises almost exclusively French chansons but as the texts are not included - only the incipits are given - we may conclude that these pieces were meant for instrumental performance. That would make it also the first printed edition of music for an instrumental ensemble. The German ensemble Les Flamboyants, directed by Michael Form, had put together a programme with pieces from this collection [24]. They were performed on recorder, viols, harp and lute. They were alternated by vocal items from other sources, either the originals of the instrumental pieces or vocal arrangements. These were sung by Els Janssens-Vanmunster who has exactly the right voice for this repertoire. She sang them nicely but sometimes I felt that her performances were a bit too straightforward; I would have liked especially some more dynamic shading. The programme included some 'evergreens' which were clearly very popular at the time, considering the large number of arrangements. Among them were De tous biens plaine, J'ay pris amours and L'homme armé. Some of the greatest masters of the renaissance were represented, such as Josquin Desprez, Antoine Busnoys and Jacob Obrecht but also Jean Japart who is a little less known. Les Flamboyants delivered technically assured and musically fine and colourful performances.

In 1511 Petrucci published a collection of songs for voice and lute and some ricercares by Francesco Bosniaco; his last name indicates that he was from Bosnia. He is not the composer, rather the arranger. All the songs belong among the genre of the frottola, a popular form of secular music which prepared the way for the madrigal which was to become the main genre of secular vocal music of the late 16th century. The Italian soprano Roberta Mameli sang a number of songs, accompanied on the lute by Eduardo Egüez [31]. This is intimate music, meant for a performance in the private rooms of the aristocracy. Hertz, the chamber music room of TivoliVredenburg, was a pretty ideal venue for this concert, especially as its construction allows for a close contact between performers and audience. The artists turned the hall into a salon and created a wonderful intimate atmosphere which made these songs really blossom. Roberta Mameli delivered a refined performance with excellent support from Egüez. This is not spectacular music and this concert won't go into the history books of this festival as one of its highlights but the small audience was clearly greatly impressed, and rightly so.

Two concerts shed light on liturgical music from Venice. For centuries Venice was politically and economically one of the most important centers of Europe, which led to a multitude of relations, for instance to the East and its dominant Byzantine culture. Due to political developments residents of eastern areas also settled in Venice, including Greeks who took their own version of the Christian faith and the accompanying liturgy with them. Cappella Romana, directed by Alexander Lingas [28], sang a programme with chants in Latin and in Byzantine Greek that in terms of pronunciation is more akin to modern Greek then to its classical version. The programme was divided into four chapters: Crucifixion and Deposition, Resurrection, Eucharist Songs and Hymns to the Mother of God. It revealed both the similarities and the differences. A striking feature of the Byzantine hymns are the long melisma's which explains that pieces on a rather short text still can take quite much time. The last part of the programme included a passage with a vocalise on "terererere"; these meaningless syllables are termed teretismata and make their appearance in Byzantine manuscripts since the 14th century. Such a passage may actually be extended or shortened at will. This repertoire is particularly fascinating and largely unknown. Cappella Romana has specialized in this kind of music and recently released a CD with liturgical music from Cyprus. The style of singing is somewhat reminiscent of that of sacred music in the Russian Orthodox tradition, with an important role for the lower voices. In this concert women also participated but their role was relatively limited. The acoustics of the St Willibrordkerk was perfect for this repertoire. The performances of the Cappella Romana were extremely impressive.

The next day the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, directed by Dominique Vellard [33], also sang liturgical music, but now from the Western tradition, what we commonly refer to as Gregorian chant. The ensemble focused specifically on a manuscript that is kept in Berlin and contains liturgical music from the San Marco. These are mainly so-called tropes, additions of new texts to an existing text in order to make them suitable for a particular feast of the ecclesiastical year. One of the fruits of historical performance practice is the awareness that before the 20th century, when the Roman Catholic liturgy was made uniform worldwide, liturgical hymns, both in text and in music, could vary by country and even by region. So this manuscript contains songs that are found nowhere else. On the other hand, there are also songs which also turn up in sources on the other side in the Alps. Interestingly, the programme notes stated: "The fact that the manuscript includes so much tropics on the Introit is significant: in the basilica of the Doge they wanted to begin with a solemn High Mass 'overture'." It shows that liturgical music had everything to do with politics and the status of those in power. This interesting and exciting musical repertoire was excellently sung by five bright voices, easily filling the space of the Pieterskerk. Even the texts were mostly audible.

The names of the Gabrielis are inextricably linked to Venice. But the image of their work is somewhat one-sided. The focus is on the multi-choral vocal works; Giovanni is also considerably better known than his uncle Andrea. The ensemble Cantica Symphonia, directed by Giuseppe Maletto, devoted a concert to the latter [25]. Most of the motets in the program were taken from a collection that was published in 1565 in Venice. According to Maletto these date from the time when Andrea worked at the court in Munich, where Lassus was Kapellmeister. All motets are for five voices, but in Cantica Symphonia's performance the line-up varied from one motet to the other. Sometimes all twelve singers were involved, then again motets were performed with one singer per voice. These came off best by far, especially those dedicated to Mary which are of an intimate and devout character. I found those pieces which were performed by the whole ensemble or the larger part of it rather disappointing. I have no problems when a piece is sung loudly; some motets ask for it or give at least reason to do so, such as Cantate Domino canticum novum which opened the programme. But that is no reason to produce a rather rough and unpolished sound. The voices didn't blend that well and that was partly due to one or two singers who produced an unpleasantly sharp tone. Not every ensemble needs to produce the same mellifluous tone as, for example, Cinquecento but this was no convincing alternative, at least not when all the voices participated.

It is nice that in this festival Adrian Willaert gets the attention he deserves. That is one of the virtues of a festival like this. Unfortunately I had to miss a concert of secular music by Willaert and his contemporaries with La Combina but that was compensated for by three concerts with sacred works. I have already mentioned the concert by Cinquecento [9] but that was not all. Last year the Portuguese Ensemble Officium made its debut in the festival. Its programme was rather unadventurous but I liked its sound and way of singing. To my delight they returned this year with a programme around the Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus by Willaert based on a motet by Jean Mouton which opened the concert [29]. In addition we heard some motets by Cipriano de Rore whose feature is the use of the canon technique. This was quite common in the 16th century and seems a kind of intellectual game but here it results in an ingenious polyphonic web with a high degree of sonority. Mouton's motet Nesciens mater is a most intriguing piece for eight voices. In this case the two choirs were not placed right and left - as in Andrea Gabrieli's O Domine Jesu Christe - but one was standing behind the other which created a special effect reflecting the peculiar way in which Mouton uses the polychoral technique. I liked the way the ensemble's director, Pedro Teixeira, applied dynamic shading. He was not afraid of sometimes making large dynamic contrasts but he made a clear difference between the traditional polyphony and the two motets by Monteverdi - Adoramus te Christe and Cantate Domino - in which the composer mixes the stile antico with elements of the concertante style of the early 17th century, for example in the treatment of the text. Part of that was the emphasis of elements in the text through dynamic accents. The way of singing was more declamatory in contrast to the legato in the older pieces. This concert confirmed my positive impressions of last year and I liked it much better than Cantica Symphonia.

The second concert was by the Cappella Pratensis which searched for "Willaert's Flemish roots," as was the title of the programme [34]. We heard motets from different stages in Willaert's career which were juxtaposed to motets by composers from an earlier generation: Josquin Desprez and Jean Mouton. From the latter we heard once again Nesciens mater. The programme invited to make a comparison between the Officium Ensemble and the Cappella Pratensis. With eight voices the latter is smaller than the Portuguese ensemble. The singers usually sing around a standard containing a choir book. Although Stratton Bull is the musical director the interpretation is still a matter of the singers together: they listen to each other and interact. It's more a real vocal ensemble while the Officium Ensemble could be called a (small) choir. I have no clear preference: I liked both ensembles. The Cappella Pratensis had the advantage of a greater transparency thanks to its smaller size but the Portuguese ensemble's larger line-up results in a little more grandeur. Either way, these two approaches can easily stand side by side. The programme notes explained in what way Willaert differs from Josquin and Mouton. This concerns brightness, compactness and complexity, but for the average listener that is not easy to experience, especially during a concert. More importantly the quality of Willaert's music was convincingly displayed thanks to the wonderful performances of the Cappella Pratensis.

The music of Claudio Monteverdi didn't figure prominently in the festival programme. That must have been intentional and could be inspired by the fact that his oeuvre is pretty well known and is frequently performed and recorded. After all, the festival sees it as its mission to present relatively little-known music of high quality. But obviously Monteverdi could not been completely absent. "The world of Monteverdi" was the title of a concert by the vocal ensemble Vox Luminis and the Capriccio Stravagante Renaissance Orchestra, directed by Skip Sempé [27]. We heard vocal and instrumental music from Monteverdi's time, for instance by Mainerio, Guami, Malvezzi and Vecchi. In addition some pieces by Monteverdi himself, from his collection Selva morale e spirituale, were performed: Confitebor III, Dixit Dominus II and Beatus vir. Lastly there were two pieces from an earlier (Andrea Gabrieli) and a later generation (Heinrich Schütz). This resulted in a great night with brilliant singing by Vox Luminis - including two duets, beautifully sung by Zsuzsi Tóth/Sara Jäggi and Philippe Froeliger/Robert Buckland respectively - and equally brilliant playing by Capriccio Stravagante. I had my doubts about the line-up in some pieces. It is questionable, for instance, whether dances by Mainerio should be played by such a large band as was the case here and also the choice of some instruments is debatable. I also wondered why the whole ensemble of twelve voices was involved in a performance of Vecchi's So ben mi ch’ha bon tempo which James Bowman a long time ago included in his debut disc to the accompaniment of only some viols and lute. But Monteverdi's motets received outstanding and impressive performances and the same is true for Schütz's Alleluia, Lobe den Herren which ended the concert. The prolonged applause was rewarded with Deus in adiutorium from the Vespers and the repeat of one of the duets.

The only concert entirely devoted to Monteverdi was given by Cantar Lontano, directed by Marco Mencoboni [30]. The core of the programme was Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. After a sinfonia we heard Altri cante di Marte and Due belli occhi fur l'armi which received nice performances although the ensemble didn't seem completely settled yet. The Lamento della ninfa was much better, with a nice interaction between the soprano and the three tenors. The Combattimento was the highlight of the night, with a brilliant, idiomatic and highly theatrical performance of the testo part by Luca Dordolo. He is a true actor who communicated the dramatic and tragic story of Tancredi and Clorinda in a most incisive manner, helped by the rather intimate atmosphere of the chamber music hall of TivoliVredenburg. The concert ended with fine performances of two further pieces: Hor ch'el ciel e la terra and Così suoi d'una chiara fonte viva. It was a memorable concert which was another highlight of this year's festival.

One could reckon the three remaining concerts among the subject of Italy and its influence on composers from elsewhere. Erik Bosgraaf (recorder) and Francesco Corti (harpsichord) played a programme with instrumental works from the first decades of the 17th century, in particular Dario Castello and Giovanni Bassano [32]. Also in the programme were pieces by composers from the Netherlands who were inspired by Uccellini (De Vois) and Caccini (Van Eyck, Amarilli mia bella) respectively. Bosgraaf added a lot of ornamentation which comes quite naturally to him thanks to his nimble fingers; it is hard to exaggerate in this department. It is far more tempting to exaggerate (fast) tempi and Bosgraaf sometimes is guilty of that but fortunately that was not the case here. There were some nice keyboard interludes from Corti as well.

Leila Schayegh (violin) and Jörg Halubek (harpsichord) shed light on another connection: Albinoni and Bach [26]. Two sonatas for violin and bc from Albinoni's op. 6, published around 1712 under the title of Trattenimenti armonici per camera. The concert opened with a nice performance of the 7th sonata, played with an impeccable technique and with great intensity and engagement by Schayegh. In the 6th sonata she added ornamentation in the style of Bach; before she demonstrated the difference between those and Italian ornaments. The concert ended with Bach's Sonata in b minor (BWV 1014) for keyboard and violin. Schayegh realized that she has to play second fiddle in this piece; the balance was pretty good but would have been even better if she had positioned herself behind the harpsichord. Earlier Halubek had delivered a good performance of Bach's Prelude and fugue on a subject by Albinoni (BWV 951); it was my impression that he added some improvisatory elements. I also noted an almost concertante realization of the basso continuo part in Albinoni's sonatas, especially in the slow movements.

The last concert I visited was in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg. The Ensemble Correspondances, directed by Sébastien Daucé, put Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a historical perspective [35]. From 1665 to 1669 he was in Italy, especially in Rome, and this had a lasting influence on his development as a composer. There was hardly any connection with Venice: there is no evidence that Charpentier ever visited the city. The programme ended with his Messe a 4 choeurs but that is no indication of Venetian influence. Polychoral music was also composed in Rome and in Bologna. In fact, the whole programme was highly speculative because we don't know how he travelled to Rome and back home, which cities he visited and which composers he may have come to know. But that didn't in any way diminish the quality of the music performed during the concert. Included were pieces by hardly-known composers, such as Orazio Tarditi, Francesco Beretta and Cristoforo Caresana, in addition to works by Cavalli, Cazzati, Benevoli, Legrenzi and Merula. This resulted in a wonderful concert, another highlight of this year's festival. The ensemble consisted of excellent singers which were not only impressive in the tutti but also showed their skills in the solo episodes. In fact the ensemble didn't have any weak spots which is remarkable considering the number of singers and players involved. In multi-choral works monumentality is more important than text expression or harmonic experiments and that aspect came off to the full. Obviously, coming back to what I wrote about the opening concert, I missed here the more appropriate acoustics of a church. Such a venue would have made this concert even more impressive. But Daucé and his musicians adapted well to the conditions in the modern hall. At least it was possible to fullfill the requirements of the polychoral pieces in regard to the positioning of the various groups. Once again this concert showed that there is still much music to be discovered.

Let me sum up. The festival came under the title of La Serenissima, an expression of the splendour and power of Venice. That was amply demonstrated, not only in the quality of the music but also in the standard of the performances. I heard only a handful of concerts which were disappointing in various gradations. But most concerts were at least good, often even outstanding. It is admirable that the festival director is able to keep the high standard which is expected from what is the largest festival for early music. It experienced an increase in the number of paying visitors once again which shows that its is broad and strong; an increase in state subsidy gives it some financial security for the years to come. That is good news, not only for lovers of early music but especially for music itself. And that is all what this festival is about.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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