musica Dei donum
Festival Early Music Utrecht 2019
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five
"Three centuries innovation in Naples" 
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
23 August, Jacobikerk
"Passeggiata Napoletana" 
Maria Marone & Ensemble
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
Neue Hofkapelle Graz
Bruno Leone & Gianluca Fusco
Leslie Visco, Marta Fumagalli, Cappella Neapolitana/Antonio Florio
23 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Tinctoris' secret solace" 
Le Miroir de Musique/Baptiste Romain
24 August, Pieterskerk
Machaut. Landini, Ciconia: Estampies & chansons 
Guillermo Pérez, organetto
25 August, TivoliVredenburg
"A mysterious singer: Anna Inglese" 
Anne-Kathryn Olsen, Tasto Solo/Guillermo Pérez
26 August, Pieterskerk
"The Neapolitan Renaissance under Aragón: Chansons, villancicos, danzas" 
La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespčrion XXI/Jordi Savall
26 August, TivoliVredenburg
Adam de la Halle: "For Kings and Connoisseurs" 
Ensemble Leones/Marc Lewon
27 August, Pieterskerk
Ortiz: "Vespers in surround sound" 
Cantar Lontano/Marco Mencoboni
28 August, TivoliVredenburg
Wert: "From Ghent via Naples to the top" 
30 August, Pieterskerk
"Da Caserta & Filipotto: Dulcedo & subtilitas" 
La Fonte Musica/Michele Pasotti
31 August, Willibrordkerk
The 38th edition of the Festival Early Music Utrecht was devoted to a city: Naples. Today it is mostly Neapolitan music of the 18th century which is given attention, with Giovanni Battista Pergolesi as its key figure. It was to be expected that this year's festival would give the audience the opportunity to learn to know many hitherto unknown composers and compositions, and that was indeed the case. Even in the 18th century there is still much to discover, let alone in the repertoire of previous centuries. The very first event included music by composers many listeners may have never heard of.
Last year there was a novelty: on Friday afternoon the Huelgas Ensemble led by Paul Van Nevel  gave three concerts with a sample of polyphonic music at the Habsburgs-Burgundian court. Apparently the formula was such that the ensemble was allowed to perform a series three concerts. It highlighted both the versatility of vocal music from the Renaissance and early Baroque periods and the stylistic development of that repertoire. The three concerts were arranged chronologically and all included a variation of spiritual and secular works. In the latter category, there was the popular element, represented by canzonettas and villanescas, versus the more sophisticated madrigal. In that genre we heard a number of striking examples of text expression, especially from the beginning of the 17th century, in particular through the use of chromaticism and dissonants. We are then in the baroque period, but the stile nuovo, which emerged in Italy around 1600, is completely absent in the works of the composers included in the programme. Just like Carlo Gesualdo, composers such as Pomponio Nenna, Scipione Lacorcia and Giovanni de Macque aimed at an optimal expression of the text and its emotions with the means of the stile antico. From that perspective, the difference between the "old" and the "new" style should not be exaggerated. We have come to expect a nearly perfect interpretation from the Huelgas Ensemble, and we were not disappointed. Both the simpler pieces and the more complicated madrigals came out well. Obviously, the ensemble's perfect intonation is essential for an optimal rendition of the harmonic experiments in this repertoire. Even so, there are some issues to be mentioned.
First, a number of secular pieces were performed with more than one singer per voice. That is debatable. It seems to me that a performance with one voice per part is a far more logical option. Second: in one piece for three voices, the upper voice was sung, the others were vocalized. This is a practice that, according to some, was common in the days of Machaut, but in this repertoire, but in this repertoire a texted performance of all three voices or a performance with one voice and a lute seem to be preferable.
it seems to me that a vocal performance of all voices or an occupation with one voice and, for example, a lute is preferable. The concert started with a one-part piece, which was sung unison by the singers, with the sopranos and the men's voices alternating, another questionable practice. Finally: a church like the Jacobikerk is hardly a suitable venue for a programme of madrigals and villanesca's.
The 'offial' opening concert in the evening was also a kind of reprise of last year, when four short concerts took place across the historical town centre, and the audience was asked to walk from one venue to the other, sometimes meeting each other halfway. This time the walk was limited to TivoliVredenburg itself . The visitors were taken to the various rooms to listen to performances which took hardly more than ten minutes. According to festival director Xavier Vandamme, the character of the evening was a kind of organized chaos. That worked out well. Due to logistical problems, which could have been easily anticipated, the whole event was rather unsatisfactory. As far as the performances are concerned, Weser-Renaissance made by far the best impression with three madrigals by Giovanni de Macque. The whole evening ended in the large hall with a short concert by the Cappella Neapolitana, directed by Antonio Florio, a veteran in the field of research and performance of Neapolitan music from the 17th and 18th centuries. He already has many modern premieres to his name. For this concert he came up with another unknown piece. Cristofaro Caresana's cantata Pace e Partenope, about San Gennaro, one of the city's patron saints. Leslie Visco (soprano) and Marta Fumagalli (contralto) delivered good performances in the solo parts, despite too much vibrato from the latter in particular.
In this review I focus on the various concerts during the festival. Let me start with concerts devoted to music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which usually took place in the medieval Pieterskerk.
The earliest music was performed by the Ensemble Leones, directed by Marc Lewon , whose programme was about Adam de la Halle (1245/50-1285/88), who lived in Naples in the late 1270s. However, at that time he had already written most of his works, which date from his time in Paris. From that perspective, the connection between the composer and Naples was rather thin. Never mind: Adam de la Halle is little known, and the ensemble had put together a very interesting programme of pieces most in the audience may have heard never before, as De la Halle is almost exclusively known for his musical play Jeu de Robin et de Marion. The programme started with the remaining fragment of the epic poem Le Roi de Secile, recited, with modest gestures, by the tenor Giovanni Cantarini. Also very interesting were the excerpts from a dialogue between Adan and Jehan, the result of a literary competition by members of the Puy d'Arras, a kind of literary association. In addition, there were rondeaus and chansons as well as some estampies. It was a well deserved musical portrait of a little-known master. As usual, the soprano Els Janssens-Vanmunster played a key role. She always knows how to strike the right chord in every piece that she's working on. She found equal partners in Cantarini and the soprano Miriam Trevisan. We already knew that Marc Lewon, who played various string and plucked instruments, also has a good voice, but here Mara Winter, who played the medieval flute, and did so very well, turned out to have quite a nice voice too.
One of the most interesting ensembles for music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance is Tasto Solo . Its director, Guillermo Pérez, specialises in the playing of early keyboard instruments, especially the organetto. He usually does so in the concerts of his ensemble, which was to perform in this festival as well, but on the first Saturday, at midnight, he gave a solo recital on the organetto. Such an event is rather rare, and I would not miss it. It was to take place in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg, and I wondered how that would work out. Pretty well: about forty people were sitting in a half circle around Pérez, who played a programme of mainly vocal music by Machaut, Ciconia, Landini and some anonymous masters, as well as a few dances. Pérez's virtuosity on such a small instrument was quite impressive, and it is astonishing how he uses it to bring out the qualities of the music he performs. It was a highly compelling recital, and the intimacy of the event which allowed for a close contact between the player and his audience was fitting and greatly contributed to his performance having a lasting effect. It was an early highlight of the festival.
On the second Saturday the mid-afternoon concert brought us to Naples in the 14th century. Michele Pasotti, with his ensemble La Fonte Musica , wanted to shed light on what are the first traces of "typical Neapolitan melody". The key figures were the two composers from the Naples environment of whom secular music is known: Filipotto da Caserta, who flourished around 1370, and Antonello da Caserta, who was active in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The title of the concert summarized what Pasotti considered the characteristics of this music: "dulcedo et subtilitas" - sweetness and subtlety. The latter term is also a reference to the style known as ars subtilior, a mainly French phenomenon that influenced these composers. This is also reflected by the fact that several of their pieces are written on a French text. One of the most brilliant examples is En attendant by Filippotto de Caserta, which was given a truly magnificent performance. The members of the ensemble made effective use of the space of the church, whose acoustic favours this kind of repertoire anyway. The concert ended with a piece that was quite different from what we had heard before and that was anything but sweet, but rather obstinate and awkward, Del glorioso titolo by Antonello da Caserta. The ensemble consisted of really outstanding singers, whose voices blended perfectly with each other and also with the instruments. The players delivered fine performances of some instrumental items. This concert was another highlight of this year's festival.
Johannes Tinctoris (c1435-1511) is almost exclusively known as a theorist, but his compositions are seldom performed. He wrote his theoretical works in Naples, and that was the reason for Baptiste Romain to compile a programme with music by Tinctoris and some of his contemporaries, which he performed with his ensemble Le Miroir de Musique . He founded his ensemble in order to highlight the role of string instruments such as rebec, vedel and viola d'arco in the music of the Renaissance. He himself played the two first-mentioned instruments, with Elisabeth Rumsey performing at the viola d’arco. Obviously, the instruments played an important role in the programme, for instance in several instrumental pieces. At that time, such pieces are mostly vocal works performed instrumentally - which was common practice in the Renaissance - or pieces that have been preserved in textless versions. That was probably the reason that in these pieces one or two voices were often vocalized by the singers of the ensemble, on the names of the notes or on a single vowel. With Sabine Lutzenberger, Dina König, Jacob Lawrence and Tim Scott Whiteley, Romain had four excellent singers at his disposal, who performed the vocal works beautifully and stylishly. The balance was not always ideal: Lawrence was sometimes a little too loud and Lutzenberger's voice was in some pieces a bit underexposed. Even so, this was a very nice and interesting concert around a figure who should be taken more seriously as a composer in his own right.
On Monday, Guillermo Pérez returned with his ensemble Tasto Solo  at the Pieterskerk to perform an interesting programme around an intriguing person: Anna Inglese, an English singer who made a career in Italy. She arrived in Naples in 1471 - reason enough to present this programme at the festival. It is indicative of the approach of Pérez, that he decided to change the programme that he had originally planned, on the basis of the results of further research. Instead of a largely Italian programme, we heard a number of pieces by the English composer Walter Frye. Anne-Kathryn Olsen took the role of Anna Inglese, so to speak. She has a very fine voice, which is excellently suited to this kind of repertoire. She also blended perfectly with the instruments, which were played in the usual engaging manner by Guillermo Pérez (organetto), Bérengčre Sardin (harp) and Bor Zuljan (lute). Due to the change of programme, we were left in the dark a little about the individual pieces. I would have loved to know, for instance, why a piece by Tinctoris was performed with an English text. Hopefully the ensemble will have the opportunity to make a recording of this most intriguing project, and then this issue will certainly be discussed.
Most lovers of early music know the Spanish composer Diego Ortiz as the author of the treatise 'Trattado de glosas'. It includes a number of recercadas, which are frequently played and recorded. However, in 1565 he published in Venice a collection of sacred music. Marco Mencoboni, artist in residence of this year's festival, had selected music for a Vesper service from this collection, to which he added plainchant. These Vespers were performed by his ensemble Cartar Lontano  in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg in "surround sound", meaning that the ensemble of singers and instrumentalists was divided into different groups, which were allocated to various spots in the hall and on different levels. One has to appreciate Mencoboni's efforts to give at least some impression of how the music may have been performed at the time. However, considering that the scoring varies from four to seven voices, it seems unlikely that the ensemble was ever divided into more than two groups. Moreover, the concept may work in a church, but not necessarily in a modern concert hall. The audience may have experienced the performance in different ways, but I was rather unsatisfied, notwithstanding the quality of the music and the level of performance. The acoustic of the large hall is just too dry and lacks the reverberation this kind of music requires. Moreover, because of the acoustic the sound coming from different angles fell more or less apart, at least in my experience. That effect was even increased by Mencoboni's decision to vary the line-up within a piece. The singing and playing was fine, except that Alessandro Carmignani, called a contratenor in the programme but in fact a sopranist, was too dominant, as usual. However, Ortiz's vocal music is well worth being performed and as I didn't know it, it was a most interesting and intriguing acquaintance.
Another composer whose sacred music is little known, is Giaches de Wert. He was of Flemish birth, but made a career in Italy. He became especially famous for his madrigals, which in their connection between text and music and the use of harmony for expressive reasons point in the direction of the early 17th century. Considering that his sacred works are not given much attention today, it was a good idea to shed light on this part of his oeuvre. The ensemble Utopia , consisting of two sopranos, alto, tenor, baritone and bass, performed a mass and a number of motets. In some of these, such as 'Adesto dolori meo, the influence of the madrigals is obvious, for instance in the use of chromaticism. The programme started with a spiritual madrigal in the vernacular, Padre del ciel. This genre was a response to the wish of the Church to clear sacred music of secular influences. Through spiritual madrigals composers could keep the features of secular music, without making use of texts which the Church considered unacceptable. The programme was put together around the five-part Missa Dominicalis, which is an alternatim composition, in which the verses are alternately sung in plainchant and polyphonically. The plainchant here as well as in the Te Deum which closed the programme, was sung by the baritone Lieven Termont in such a way that the text was clearly intelligible. The voices of the singers blended wonderfully, and the ensemble cleverly used the space of the church. This concert was an excellent opportunity to get to know Wert's sacred music.
For early music lovers of an older generation, the evening concert on Monday will have brought memories of the good old days, when the pioneers were exploring new grounds in repertoire and performance practice. One of those pioneers was Jordi Savall, who founded his ensemble Hespčrion XX and started to explore the repertoire of the Renaissance from his own country, Spain. He performed and recorded secular works from several songbooks of the time, so-called cancioneros. For this concert in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg he returned to this repertoire with his present ensembles La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespčrion XXI . As Napels was under Spanish authority for more than two centuries, such a programme fitted in the festival. One can leave it to Savall to put together an interesting programme with lots of variety: instrumental pieces in several combinations of instruments and vocal music, both sacred and secular. Several pieces are quite well-known, such as Willaert's Vecchie letrose, Ghizeghem's De tous bien playne and La Tricotea by a certain Alonso. In the ensemble were some old pals of Savall, such as Jean-Pierre Canihac (cornett), Sergi Casademunt and Lorenz Duftschmid (viola da gamba) as well as Andrew Lawrence-King (harp). Savall could also rely on a fine group of singers, partly longtime members of his ensemble (Lluis Villamajó, Furio Zanasi, Daniele Carnovich) and partly younger forces, such as the soprano Lucía Martín-Cartón. Savall kept things under control, which resulted in a strong amount of stylistic unity. There was some brilliant playing from the brass section (cornett, sackbuts, shawm) and the viols, with Savall playing the descant viol. The singing was of the same level. It was clear that the performers enjoyed the music just as much as the audience, whose rapturous applause after the closing item - another 'oldie', the anonymous De tu vista celoso - enticed the ensemble to perform two encores. However, as enjoyable as the programme was, one cannot overlook that Savall takes many liberties with regard to the line-up. I am pretty sure that a piece as Willaert's Vecchie letrose was not intended to be performed with so many musicians as was the case here. Too often Savall turns his performances into a kind of 'music for the millions'. Most of the repertoire was not really suitable for the large hall anyway.
Alessandro Scarlatti & Fiorenza: Concertos for recorder 
Erik Bosgraaf, Cordevento
24 August, Hertz
"The violin in Naples: Matteis & Guido" 
Josef Zák, Ensemble Castelkorn
26 August, Hertz
"The violin in Naples: Cailň and his pupils" 
Eva Saladin, Daniel Rosin, Johannes Keller
27 August, Hertz
"The violin in Naples: Fiorenza, Marchitelli, Leo" 
Ensemble Aurora/Enrico Gatti
28 August, Hertz
Valentini: "Eccentric canzonas & sonatas" 
28 August, Pieterskerk
Durante: Concertos 
28 August, Geertekerk
Porpora: Violin sonatas 
Evgeny Sviridov, Ludus Instrumentalis
29 August, Hertz
Mancini, Sarri, Leo, Pullj: Sonatas for recorder 
Inęs d'Avena, La Cicala
30 August, Hertz
"The art of the madrigal around Caravaggio" 
Nuria Rial, UrgentMusic/Veronika Skuplik
31 August, Hertz
As I have already written, a large part of Neapolitan music is little known. That probably goes in particular for instrumental music. Naples is mostly associated with opera and vocal music in general. In comparison, music for instrumental ensemble receives not that much attention. However, concertos and sonatas for the recorder have not fared that badly, probably thanks to the fact that not that much music for the recorder was written in the late baroque period. As recorder players are always looking for music for their instrument, they can hardly overlook the concertos and sonatas by Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Mancini, some of which are part of the so-called manoscritto di Napoli of 1725.
Erik Bosgraaf and his ensemble Cordevento  performed five concertos for recorder and strings by Alessandro Scarlatti. His oeuvre consists mainly of vocal music; instrumental works take a relatively modest place in his output. It is therefore striking that he composed a number of recorder concertos. Here the recorder is not so much the soloist, but part of the polyphonic framework, and that requires perfect ensemble of recorder, two violins, cello, theorbo and keyboard - and that is exactly what we got. Bosgraaf did act as a virtuoso. He used various recorders and played them beautifully, with good articulation and nice ornamentation, avoiding break-neck speeds. These concertos include some dramatic elements which betrayed Scarlatti's credentials as one of his time's main opera composers. Also included was a concerto by Nicola Fiorenza (?-1764), in which the recorder is more of a soloist. It was nice that the concert ended with Scarlatti's Concerto IX in a minor, which I have become acquainted with through a recording of the late Frans Brüggen, and probably the first piece by Scarlatti that I have ever heard.
Inęs d'Avena has comprehensively researched Neapolitan recorder repertoire, and found some pieces hitherto overlooked, and was able to attribute another piece to Francesco Mancini, who was the central figure in the concert with her ensemble La Cicala . Unlike the concertos by Alessandro Scarlatti, Mancini's concertos (called sonatas) are much more real solo concertos, in which the recorder plays the leading role. In the ensemble the two violins are joined by a viola. The concert ended with a concerto for the same scoring by Domenico Sarri. In between we heard some sonatas for recorder and basso continuo by Mancini, but also by Leonardo Leo and the little-known Pietro Pullj. The importance of the research like that of Inęs d'Avena can hardly be overrated. It greatly contributes to the size and the variety of the repertoire for recorder and also gives us a broader picture of music life in a region, in this case Naples. The performances were excellent. Inęs d'Avena is not only a fine scholar, but also a first-class player, as she already proved with two discs with her ensemble that were released in recent years. She produces a sweet sound, but in the interpretation she creates much tension through articulation, variation in tempo and dynamic accents. Even though the recorder had more of a solo role, this concert was very much a collective effort of a congenial group.
From Monday to Thursday, the chamber music concerts were devoted to music for violin. In the first, Josef Zák and his ensemble Castelkorn  focused on two composers closely associated with Naples, but who made a career above the Alps. Nicola Matteis (?-after 1713) was born in or near Naples and moved to England, whereas Giovanni Antonio Guido (c1675-after 1728) was born in Genua and studied in Naples, but then moved to France. Matteis' music is available on disc, but Guido is a largely unknown quantity. The two sonatas from his pen are very interesting. They are technically demanding and include quite some double stopping, but there is also much Italian pathos in especially the slow movements, which received a very fine performance. The rhythm of the basso continuo in the second movement of the Sonata in F was infectious. Matteis was a real virtuoso, something not known in England, when he arrived. His suites are unusual, as they have a rather loose structure; they are also full of contrast in character and tempo. Some of the titles are curious, such as 'Malinconia'. Many movements are virtuosic, but that is not all: these suites are certainly not devoid of expression. A good example is the sarabanda con affetto from the Suite in e minor. All these qualities came impressively off in the ensemble's performances. There was some nice ornamentation, and I liked the differentiation in tempo and dynamics. I had not heard this ensemble before. This concert was a most pleasant acquaintance. I hope to hear more from them, including their first disc. And a recording of sonatas by Guido would be most welcome.
Matteis returned in the next recital, given by Eva Saladin (violin), Daniel Rosin (cello) and Johannes Keller (harpsichord) . Eva Saladin will be one of next year's artists in residence. When I heard that, I did not exactly know why, because I could not remember having heard her. During the concert I started to understand why she was selected. Next year's festival is devoted to the art of rhetorics, and Saladin's performance attested to her mastery of that art. She played two pieces for violin solo by Matteis, and did so brilliantly. Matteis was a violist himself, and to were the other three composers in the programme: Gian Carlo Cailň (1659-1722), Michele Mascitti (1664-1760) and Giovanni Antonio Piani (1687-after 1759). All these pieces received outstanding performances. Eva Saladin is also a scholar, as she showed in the way she approached the music from the angle of performance practice. First, the line-up of the basso continuo was differentiated: either harpsichord with cello, or one of these instruments alone. In particular the accompaniment by a cello alone is something which was quite common at the time, but is hardly practised these days. Saladin also demonstrated different ways of holding the violin. She explained to the audience that there were different ways to hold the violin during the 17th and 18th centuries, and therefore there is no such a thing as a 'correct' or 'wrong' way to hold the instrument. Only in a few cases we know for sure how a violinist held his instrument. This concert was a most interesting and musically compelling event, which made me look forward to her contributions to next year's festival.
We are used to talking about the baroque period, based on a similarity in style characteristics of the music composed at that time. However, within that framework there is quite a bit of variation and that is often related to a specific region or even city. Focusing on such a region or city allows to discover what is specific about the music written there, and in what way it differs from that elsewhere. Examples of this were highlighted in a concert by the Ensemble Aurora, directed by Enrico Gatti . Sonatas for violin and basso continuo and trio sonatas are among the most common genres of the baroque period. But sonatas and concerti - those terms are often interchangeable - for three and four violins and basso continuo are quite rare and seem to be a Neapolitan peculiarity. Again we heard music by Giovanni Carlo Cailň. His sonata for three violins, incidentally, may have been written in Rome, which puts in perspective the claim that this is a typical Neapolitan genre. It may well be the earliest example of such a scoring. From Pietro Marchitelli (1643-1729) we heard two sonatas, for two and three violins respectively. I particularly liked the quick alternation between forte and piano in the second adagio from the Sonata II for three violins and the closing allegro from the Sonata VIII for two violins. The program started with a concerto for three violins by Nicola Fiorenza, which ended with a presto in which the violins play non legato. At the end there was a concerto for four violins by Leonardo Leo. This line-up lends this piece an almost orchestral character. In the two slow parts, the composer contrasts two pairs of violins that enter into dialogue with each other. Enrico Gatti is a veteran when it comes to playing the baroque violin, but he can still easily compete with players of the younger generation. He had gathered three of them around him. Old veterans are also cellist Gaetano Nasillo and harpsichordist Guido Morini. Together they delivered a fascinating concert, in which the qualities of the pieces were explored to the full.
In the next concert in this series, the three members of Ludus Instrumentalis: Evgeny Sviridov (violin), Davit Melkonyan (cello) and Stanislav Gres (harpsichord) , performed a programme with three sonatas for violin and basso continuo by Nicola Porpora. He was mainly known as an opera composer, and wanted to prove that he knew how to write for instruments. In 1754 he published a set of twelve violin sonatas, which are technically very demanding, including for instance many passages with double stopping. That seems rather unusual for a composer who himself was not a professional violinist. In this concert three sonatas from this set were performed, the Nos. 5 and 6 from the first half and the last sonata from the second. The second half shows the influence of the galant style, but these sonatas are not much less virtuosic than the first six. One may have different opinions about the musical substance of these sonatas. Some of the pyrotechnics in particular in the fast movements reminded me of the extreme ornamentation Farinelli included in some arias he sang regularly (which were performed at a concert by Ann Hallenberg; see below). Maybe Porpora tried a little too hard to prove his capabilities as a composer for the violin. Even so, the virtuosity of these sonatas is impressive, and so was the way Sviridov performed them. He was just brilliant in the fast movements, but also showed his good feeling for the more expressive slow movements. He received fine support from his excellent colleagues. The programme also included a sonata attributed - probably wrongly - to Handel and a curious piece by the Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman: 'Fac, ut ardeat cor meum' from Pergolesi's Stabat mater in an arrangement for violin solo. Sviridov received excellent support from his colleagues. This concert was another event to remember.
In two concerts we heard music for a larger line-up than we had heard before. The first of these included some repertoire one would not expect in a festival devoted to Naples. The American ensemble Acronym  performed a programme around Giovanni Valentini (c1582-1649), an Italian composer who worked for most of his life at the imperial court in Vienna. Apparently he was never in Naples. However, Valentini experimented with harmony, and according to the liner-notes in the festival's programme this shows the influence of the likes of Gesualdo, Trabaci and De Macque. That is certainly possible, but hard to prove. After all, Naples was not the only place where harmonic experiments took place. The most quirky piece was the Sonata a 5 in g minor, which seems almost atonal, and consists of sequences of the most extraordinary harmonic progressions. We also heard some other pieces by composers who for a short or longer time stayed in Vienna, such as Bertali and Capricornus. The programme ended with the Sonata jocunda by Schmelzer or Biber. In order to emphasize the connection to Naples, pieces by Gesualdo, Trabaci and De Macque were inserted into the programme. These are originally intended for a keyboard or a harp, but were performed here on strings, with the exception of De Macque's Canzon francese del Principe, which Elliott Figg played at the harpsichord. I had never neard Acronym and I was pleasantly surprised by its performances. Both the technical capabilities of the individual players, some of whom has the opportunity to shine, and - even more so - the rhetorical interpretation and the energetic and dynamic playing of the entire ensemble were quite impressive. This is an ensemble I hope to hear again in future editions of this festival.
As far as instrumental music is concerned, the Concerti per quartetto by Francesco Durante may well count among the better-known part of what was written in Naples. Their title could suggest that we have to do with chamber music here, but although one cannot exclude that they may have been played with one instrument per part, it seems more likely that they were intended for a larger string ensemble. That is the way they were performed by Holland Baroque . Durante had a preference for counterpoint, which is remarkable in a time, in which the galant idiom conquered Europe. For advocates of this style melody was the main thing. Durante's concerti are dominated by counterpoint, but are anything but conventional. The titles of some movements attest to that, such as Ricercar del quarto tono (No. 4) and largo staccato – canone amabili (No. 3). The most odd concerto is No. 8, which has the nickname La pazza - "the mad, the insane". It applies particularly to the first movement, taking more than half the time of the whole concerto. Other concertos also include a couple of surprises. Holland Baroque delivered performances in which all these peculiarities came off perfectly. It was nice to hear the ensemble in real baroque music, as recently they increasingly wasted their time and energy with cross-over follies. Fortunately they have not forgotten how to spell the audience with energetic, dynamic and differentiated performances.
The last concert in the series with chamber music was a bit different from the previous concerts in that it included a mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces. The latter were played by the ensemble UrgentMusic, directed by violinist Veronika Skuplik, the vocal items were sung by the soprano Nuria Rial . The programme was put together around the painter Caravaggio, who run away from Rome after a deadly duel and spent some time in Naples. It was one of those concerts, whose content's connection to Naples was rather limited. That also applied to the pieces on the programme. The instrumental pieces were from the pen of Andrea Falconieri, who worked in Naples, and we also heard vocal pieces by Sigismondo d'India, who lived in Naples at different periods of his life. However, also included were compositions by Barbara Strozzi, who worked in Venice and, as far as I can tell, has never been in Naples. Nuria Rial is an early music specialist, and that showed in that her interpretations were much closer to historical performance practice than what heard from most of her colleagues during this festival (see below). She put the text into the centre of attention and she avoided extravagancies, such as a wide and incessant vibrato. The pieces by d'India were scored for two voices and basso continuo; Veronika Skuplik played the second voice on the violin. To what extent this was a common practice, I do not know. It did come off well, but I would have preferred a vocal performance of both parts. The instrumental works of Falconieri were given excellent performance by the ensemble, consisting of two violins, cello, and two plucked instruments, chitarrone and guitar. However, the cello in music of this period is a less obvious choice. A viola da gamba or a bass violin would have been better options.
Paradisi: Keyboard sonatas 
Enrico Baiano, harpsichord
24 August, Lutheran Church
De Macque: Keyboard works 
Jean-Marc Aymes, harpsichord
26 August, Lutheran Church
Durante: Keyboard sonatas 
Cristiano Gaudio, harpsichord
27 August, Lutheran Church
Alessandro Scarlatti: Keyboard works 
Bart Naessens, harpsichord
28 August, Lutheran Church
Mayone: Keyboard works 
Louise Acabo, harpsichord
29 August, Lutheran Church
Salvatore: Keyboard works 
Fernando Miguel Jalôto, harpsichord
30 August, Lutheran Church
"The harp in Naples" 
Mara Galassi, harp
30 August, Lutheran Church
"Partimenti to Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti" 
Giovanni Paganelli, harpsichord
31 August, Lutheran Church
The third part of my review focuses on the keyboard recitals, which traditionally take place in the Lutheran Church, which thanks to its limited size is excellently suited to this kind of music. In this series of recitals we were allowed to follow the development of keyboard writing in Naples, albeit not entirely in chronological order: Enrico Baiano opened the series with a recital of sonatas by Pier Domenico Paradisi, who was in fact the latest composer in the series.
I start with the earliest music. Jean-Marc Aymes  devoted his recital to the oeuvre of Giovanni de Macque (c1550-1614). He was of Flemish origin and was the leading composer of the Neapolitan school around 1600. His experiments in the field of harmony are comparable to those by Carlo Gesualdo in his madrigals. Aymes played a large part of De Macque's output. The various forms in vogue at the time were represented, such as the capriccio, the canzon, the toccata and partite. It was a nice idea of Aymes to explain to the audience how De Macque treats the musical material in order to create harmonic tension. He did so by demonstrating the way De Macque deals with the three different subjects - each of them quite simple in itself - of the Capriccio sopra tre soggetti. Ruggiero was a popular harmonic scheme at the time; De Macque used it for eight partite. Composers also liked to imitate natural phenomena or instruments, and so did De Macque in his Toccata a modi di Trombetta. A piece like Durezze, e ligature, which is dominated by dissonances, would probably come off better on an organ in meantone temperament. That is only a minor issue, though. Aymes played a marvellous recital, which was the best possible plea for the keyboard music of De Macque.
The young French harpsichordist Louise Acabo  played a programme with music by another brilliant representative of the Neapolitan keyboard school: Ascanio Mayone (c1565-1627). He was born in Naples and did not only play keyboard instruments, but also the harp. His output for keyboard has been preserved in three printed editions; Acabo had selected pieces from all three collections. Like De Macque, Mayone experimented with forms and harmony. Some of his keyboard works require a chromatic harpsichord: an instrument with 19 instead of 12 keys. Acabo explained that the instrument she played was a kind of compromise, as it had just 14 keys. We heard various forms: toccatas, canzonas and partite; in the latter category we got an energetic performance of the Partite sopra Fedele. The programme also included three arrangements of vocal pieces: Jacques Arcadelt's madrigal Ancidetemi pur by Mayone and Thomas Crecquillon's chanson Pis ne me peult venir by Antonio de Cabezón and Antonio Valente respectively. In Mayone's Ricercar sopra il canto fermo di Costantio Festa Acabo's interpretation resulted in an optimal transparency of the polyphonic texture. In the toccatas she managed to communicate the composer's compositional discourse. This recital was an interesting acquaintance with both a fascinating composer and a young artist of whom we certainly shall hear much more in the future.
Many people may not know De Macque and Mayone, but Giovanni Salvatore (c1620-c1688) is probably even less known. He was not born there, but studied at the Conservatorio della Pietŕ dei Turchini. He worked mainly as an organist, and some of his leyboard works can only be played at the organ. Obviously these were omitted in the recital of his keyboard music, given by the Portuguese harpsichordist Fernando Miguel Jalôto . He explained how Salvatore treats three subjects, called fughe, and added that his music does more appeal to the mind than to the heart and that it is more enjoyable for the player than for an audience. Either he is wrong or he underestimated his own communicative capabilities as a performer, because the audience clearly enjoyed his recital, in which he had grouped the pieces in cycles of different forms. It was nice that the played the entire programme without interruption, which created a nice sort of tension and allowed the audience to focus on how Salvatore uses the various genres, such as ricercare, corrente, toccata and canzone. For most listeners this was probably the first acquaintance with the oeuvre of Salvatore. It was a most interesting and enjoyable experience.
It made much sense that only one hour after this recital, another one took place in the same venue, this time with Mara Galassi  playing the harp. As we have already seen, Mayone was also a harpist. In the 17th century very little music was specifically written for the harp. Music for keyboard, harp or plucked instruments was partly interchangeable, and several collections of music mentioned the harp as an alternative to the keyboard. It was no surprise, then, that Galassi included various keyboard pieces in her programme, by composers who had figured in the keyboard recitals, such as Valente, Mayone and Trabaci. The latter is one of the few who indicated that a piece was intended for the harp: Ancidetemi pur per l'Arpa. Galassi started her recital with some lute pieces by Fabrizio Dentice. She played the copy of the so-called Barberini harp, an instrument built between 1605 and 1620 and especially notable for the gilded and richly decorated pillar which is crowned by the Barberini coat of arms. The Barberini were a powerful family; one of its members was elected Pope in 1623 as Urbanus VIII. This instrument is pre-eminently suited for the performance of the programme Mara Galassi had put together. Add to that the supreme skills of Galassi, and the result was a compelling recital which had to be reckoned among the highlights of this year's festival, especially as one has not often the chance of hearing the harp in a solo recital, not even at the festival.
Alessandro Scarlatti may be a quite well-known composer these days, his keyboard oeuvre is given little attention. In New Grove it is hardly discussed and described as "pupil fodder". It may indeed have been intended as pedagogical material, but that in itself does not indicate that it has no musical merit. Especially the toccatas are brilliant; the Belgian harpsichordist Bart Naessens played four of them in his recital. One of these is a special case: the Toccata VII leads to a series of 29 variations over La Folia, one of the most popular bassi ostinati at the time. They are well-known but often omitted when the toccata is played, for instance by Johannes Keller . It was a nice gesture of Naessens to play the entire piece as it was conceived by Scarlatti. The toccatas include lots of notes, which can give the impression of empty virtuosity. But Scarlatti's music is never empty. It is therefore the task of the interpreter to expose a piece's rhetorical structure, to tell a story with the notes, so to speak. The late Gustav Leonhardt was a master in this department. Unfortunately, Naessens's recital was a bit of a disappointment. He played well and there can be no doubt about his technical abilities. But it was too much of the same; the music didn't really breathe or speak. That made it not easy to enjoy the Folia variations; Naessens did not manage to avoid them becoming a bit tedious. Even so, it was good that Scarlatti's keyboard oeuvre is given serious attention through this recital and in other concerts at the festival.
Obviously, in a series of keyboard music from Naples, Domenico Scarlatti can not be omitted, even though he composed almost all of his sonatas in Spain. The harpsichordist Giovanni Paganelli, another new name to me, started by connecting Domenico to his father by playing Arpeggio e allegro in D by Alessandro. If one listens to the latter's keyboard works, as we could in a previous recital by Bart Naessens , one realises that Domenico inherited his keyboard skills from his father. Paganelli made a nice choice from Domenico's first thirty sonatas, printed under the title of Essercizii. Paganelli came up with an interesting idea: every group of three sonatas was preceded or followed by a so-called partimento. According to New Grove the tem partimento used fairly frequently in the late 18th and early 19th centuries "to denote exercises in figured-bass playing, not so much as accompaniments to a solo instrument as self-contained pieces." There seems to be a growing interest in this aspect of performance practice lately, as a recent disc by Nicoleta Paraschivescu shows. "It is my aim to investigate how partimenti can be used to recreate the Baroque compositional environment in the modern performer's mind", Paganelli stated in the programme notes. That probably works better in a recording than in a live performance, as that offers the opportunity to relisten and compare. Moreover, the programme was printed in such a way that the audience clapped between the sonatas and the partimento which was used as a kind of 'comment' on them. That said, it was a nice idea and the interest in this practice is an important development. Paganelli performed the sonatas on a copy of a Hemsch harpsichord, probably not the most obvious choice. I would have preferred an Italian instrument. Paganelli's playing was fine, but I didn't find it that easy to keep my concentration. But that is perhaps also due to the fact that Scarlatti's sonatas don't rank among my favourite keyboard repertoire. The Sonata in g minor (K 30) was the nicest part of the programme.
Another Italian harpsichordist, and, like Louise Acabo, a young and promising artist, Cristiano Gaudio , played a programme devoted to the harpsichord sonatas by Francesco Durante. He was considered rather conservative in his time. Counterpoint plays a key role in his oeuvre; that was increasingly considered something of the past in his time. We heard six sonatas, each of which consists of two movements. The first is always a fugue, which attests to Durante's preference for and command of counterpoint. The second movement is a divertimento, and here Durante catches up with the style of his time, as this was one of the favourite forms of the galant period. Gaudio's technical capabilities were impressive, as these sonatas are certainly not easy stuff. They require nimble fingers, but also a good insight into their rhetorical structure. Gaudio has both, which resulted in a highly compelling recital, which put Durante's sonatas on the map. Gaudio added two toccatas as well as a toccata by Alessandro Scarlatti, which were played with the same panache. He is certainly a player one should keep an eye on.
The name of Pier (or Pietro) Domenico Paradisi will not ring a bell with most music lovers. He wrote music for the theatre, but in our time he is best known for his keyboard sonatas. Stylistically these belong somewhere between the baroque and classical periods. Enrico Baiano  is a specialist in the harpsichord oeuvre of Domenico Scarlatti and it can hardly surprise that he is also interested in Paradisi (whose sonatas he recorded on CD), as he is strongly influenced by Scarlatti. Some of the sonatas Baiano included in his recital, such as the Sonata V in F, could be easily taken for a sonata by Scarlatti. Other sonatas reminded me of the keyboard works by CPE Bach, for instance the Sonata IX in a minor. The aria from the Sonata III in F is also very unlike Scarlatti. Baiano delivered an impressive performance, technically and musically, and proved to be the ideal advocate of this relatively neglected composer, whose sonatas deserve more attention.
"Festa Napoletana!" 
Leslie Visco, Pino De Vittorio, Cappella Neapolitana/Antonio Florio
24 August, Hertz
"Porpora: Neapolitan & cosmopolitan" 
Amaryllis Dieltiens, Capriola di Gioia/Bart Naessens
26 August, Hertz
"Farinelli! Farinelli!" 
Ann Hallenberg, Stile Galante/Stefano Aresi
27 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Grand Tour: Destination Naples" 
29 August, Hertz
Manna: "Arias in world premičres" 
Marie Lys, Abchordis Ensemble/Andrea Buccarella
29 August, Geertekerk
Alessandro Scarlatti: Agar e Ismaele 
Soloists, Neue Hofkapelle Graz/Michael Hell, Lucia Froihofer; Nouruz Ensemble
29 August, Stadsschouwburg
Farina, Amodei: Serenatas & cantatas 
Raffaella Milanesi, Ensemble Odyssee/Andrea Friggi
30 August, Hertz
"La pazza: Giramo, Rossi, Caresana" 
31 August, TivoliVredenburg
The fourth part of this review is devoted to what is probably the best-known part of Neapolitan music: secular works, from opera to popular songs. The concerts by the Huelgas Ensemble included some madrigals from around 1600. Obviously the madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo could not been neglected; some of them were performed by Graindelavoix, but for several reasons I decided not to attend their concert. Music from the 17th century was also included in a concert by Camerata Trajectina , an ensemble which focuses on music from the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries. That was also the case here: it performed a programme about Nicolaas Heinsius, a young Dutch student of the 17th century, making his grand tour to Florence, Rome and Naples from 1646 to 1648. In addition to Dutch pieces by, among others, Cornelis Schuyt and Sweelinck, Italian music was performed; among the composers were Caccini, Giovanni Ferretti and Stefano Felis. Some of these pieces were sung on a Dutch text from the 17th century. The musical items were connected through imaginary letters Heinsius should have written to his father and other members of his family. It had some serious notes, but it was also good fun - that is one of the hallmarks of Camerata Trajectina's projects, and it is also one of its pitfalls: in the end everything has to be pleasant and funny. It is the reason I am not a really big fan of the ensemble, despite its often interesting projects. The performances are mostly reasonably good, but seldom excellent. That was the case here as well. The six singers sang reasonably well, but didn't blend perfectly, mainly due to Hieke Meppelink's slight but clearly audible vibrato. The instrumental items were the best part of the concert. However, the audience clearly enjoyed itself.
Quite interesting was the concert by the Ensemble Odyssee, directed from the harpsichord by Andrea Friggi, with the soprano Raffaella Milanesi , who sang several cantatas from the second half of the 17th century. The chamber cantata was to become one of the most popular genres of secular vocal music after 1700. It was Alessandro Scarlatti, who laid down its basic structure: two pairs of recitative and aria, usually for solo voice and basso continuo. The cantatas in this concert, by two little-known composers, Antonio Farina (fl c1675) and Cataldo Amodei (1649-1693), were written before he did so, and this explains why they were quite different from the cantatas we know from the early 18th century. In fact, the cantatas performed during the concert were not chamber cantatas; they were rather probably performed in open air during summer evenings. Farina's cantata Sovra carro stellato is even called a serenata. His cantata Di Pausilippo has an unusual form: a sinfonia is followed by a recitative and three arias without dacapo, and closes with another recitative. Amodei's cantata Giŕ col manto dell'ombre, for solo voice and basso continuo, has a structure of its own as well. A recitative is followed by an aria, the opening phrases being repeated not only at the end, but also at the end of the recitative which follows the aria. The instrumental ensemble included two recorders, alongside two violins. In what way these are prescribed by the composer, is impossible for me to check. On the programme were also two trio sonatas by Pietro Marchitelli (1643-1729), and here the recorders played colla parte with the violins. The Sonata I included some virtuosic passages for the two violins; obviously the recorders kept silent here. The ensemble, with Eva Saladin (violin) and Anna Stegmann (recorder), delivered excellent performances. Raffaella Milanesi does not lack dramatic skills, and from a dramatic point of view her performances left nothing to be desired. Stylistically they were rather unsatisfying; her incessant and wide vibrato really spoiled my enjoyment. However, from a musical point the cantatas were quite interesting, and I hope to hear more from them.
Over the years I have grown more and more sceptical about the way Christine Pluhar approaches early music. Too often I have heard things I was very unhappy with, to put it mildly. Therefore I hesitated whether to ask for a ticket for the concert by her ensemble L'Arpeggiata , with the title "La Pazza". I was hoping that maybe Pluhar would turn to some serious music making this time. Once again, I was disappointed. One piece in the programme, by Pietro Antonio Giramo, was entitled Il pazzo, 'the fool'. Unfortunately, that fool - that was me. I should not have gone, and save me the nuisance of hearing such talent being wasted at trivial stuff. Let me get this straight: I have nothing against some humorous pieces, even though I prefer more serious stuff, but a whole concert with that kind of music is a bit too much. However, that is not the main reason that I left the hall before the end the concert. It did not start badly, with some nice instrumental and vocal pieces, even if one has to consider that the ensemble was probably much larger than is justified from a historical angle. Unfortunately that is not unusual, as the concert by Jordi Savall showed. The two pieces by Giramo, one of which I already mentioned, could have been good, if the singers had not tried to do too much. It is very questionable whether the interpreter of these works should make such an act as they did. It was terribly over the top. Equally bad were the 'traditional' songs. If one wants to perform them, one should ask performers for whom this is daily bread. They know what to do and what not to do. Singers who have received a classical training should stay away from them. What we got here were caricatures, comparable to opera stars singing Christmas songs. And if one decides to perform more 'popular' music, one should not make use of cornett, a battery of plucked instruments and keyboard instruments as harpsichord and organ. As if these vocal extravaganzas were not bad enough, we got the almost inevitable improvisations in a style that has nothing to do with the baroque period, of all pieces in the middle of a pastorale. These performers don't need that kind of gimmicks. They can be really good, as Giuseppina Bridelli showed in a moving performance of Luigi Rossi's Lamento d'Arione. Unfortunately, too often they try to entertain the audience, even at the cost of the basics of historical performance practice.
There is a far better way to perform 'popular' music; that was demonstrated by Antonio Florio, directing his Cappella Neapolitana , in a programme entitled "Festa Napoletana!". It mainly included pieces of a comical nature from the 18th century. Tenor Pino de Vittorio played a leading role, and many lovers of Italian baroque music then know what to expect. He sings sacred and secular repertoire, but being a born actor, his qualities come best off in the kind of music performed at this concert. I don't think he has got a really beautiful voice, and his style of singing is not my cup of tea, but his performances were quite effective. If one is going to perform this repertoire, then one probably has to do it this way. Whether that also applies to a relatively late work as Paisiello's Pulcinella vendicato (1740-1816) is something I am not sure about. De Vittorio's counterpart was the soprano Leslie Visco, who has a more sophisticated voice. She did rather well following Vittorio in his approach to the repertoire. It was certainly an entertaining event, to which the ensemble also contributed. The audience loved it and enticed the performers to two encores.
One of Naples's most famous composers of the 18th century was Nicola Porpora. In our time he is best known as the singing teacher of some famous castratos, among them Farinelli. For some time he worked in London, as a rival to Handel. Capriola di Gioia, directed by Bart Naessens , performed a programme in which both composers were represented. It has often been suggested that Handel and Porpora were indeed rivals, but that is questionable. There are good reasons to believe that they in fact were on friendly terms. Even so, a programme in which the two masters are juxtaposed can be quite interesting. And this programme was entertaining, including a mixture of cantatas, opera arias and instrumental pieces. Unfortunately, it did not really come off the ground. First, an ensemble of two violins, viola and basso continuo, with an additional transverse flute in some items, is not the best way to perform opera arias. Here a larger ensemble is needed. The soloist was Amaryllis Dieltiens, of whom I have heard good things in the past. She could not convince here: opera is not her thing; I have never discovered really theatrical instincts. She forced herself to do things which don't come natural to her. The result was vibrato-laden performances of arias, including some highly exaggerated cadenzas. The cantatas by Porpora came off a little better. In all arias, save the closing one, the dacapos were omitted, which is unacceptable. The performance of dacapos is not at the discretion of the performers. The instrumental playing was nice, but could not save the concert.
From Porpora to Farinelli is only a small step. The mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg and the ensemble Stile Galante, directed by Stefano Aresi , performed a programme around this intriguing figure, appropriately called "Farinelli! Farinelli!". The starting point was a collection of ten arias, which Farinelli often sang, and which he gave as a present to empress Maria Theresa in Vienna. This source is especially interesting as in two arias Farinelli notated his own ornamentation and cadenzas. Therefore it gives us information about his own performance practice. These two arias were included in the programme. The first was 'Quell'usignolo' from the opera Merope by Geminiano Giacomelli (1692-1740), a composer who today is not that well known. Even less known is the composer of the other aria, Giovanni Antonio Giay. 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is from his opera Mitridate. The two arias bear witness to the virtuosity of Farinelli. For us today it may surprise that the endless roulades and chains of trills caused such excitement at the time. One can understand the criticism of the likes of Benedetto Marcello and later Christoph Willibald von Gluck. The noble art of ornamentation had gone completely over the top. These ornamented versions were interesting, but musically of little substance. These are vocal acrobatics, meant to show off. One can understand that Ann Hallenberg only sang four arias, considering that with such extraordinary ornamentation the arias are getting extremely demanding. One could only admire her ability and willingness to perform them. She did so brilliantly. However, her singing has little to do with the style of the baroque era. It would be interesting to hear a singer who approaches this repertoire from a strictly historical angle. We also heard a cello concerto by Porpora and a violin sonata by José Herrando, who worked closely with Farinelli during his time in Madrid. His sonata includes imitations of phenomena associated with spring. It is a bit of a modest version of Vivaldi's concerto La primavera. These pieces were given excellent performances by Agnieska Oszanca and Isabella Bison respectively. Stile Galante's playing left nothing to be desired.
Opera played a major role in Naples. Only a few composers did not write any opera, such as Durante. Unfortunately, to date only a few Neapolitan opera composers are well known and few operas are part of the repertoire today. It was nice to have the opportunity to get to know one of those composers in a concert by the ensemble Abchordis, directed from the harpsichord by Andrea Buccarella . I knew only a few sacred works of Gennaro Manna (1715-1779), but I can't remember having heard any operatic music from his pen. Four arias were sung, two with the introductory recitatives, from different operas: Tito Manlio (1742), Lucio vero (1745), Lucio Papiro dittatore (1748) and Didone abbandonata (1751). The latter two were first performed in Rome and Venice respectively, which attests to Manna's reputation. And if the arias are anything to go by, he must have been a very good opera composer indeed. They are excellent, both from a musical and a dramatic point of view. There is no reason why Manna should be ignored and it seems that his operas deserve to be performed at full length. The qualities of the arias came well off in the performances by Marie Lys, who certainly has the talent for opera and was able to express the emotions of the protagonists of the different arias. Stylistically her performances were disappointing and attested to the usual problems of opera performances these days. In addition to an incessant and pretty wide vibrato, she added cadenzas which extended the tessitura of the arias and sang the top notes at full power. The orchestra is a fine ensemble, as it not only proved in the arias, but also the orchestral works, especially two movements from Durante's Concerto per quartetto No. 2 and a sonata by the little-known Aniello Santangelo.
The last event reviewed here is a little different in that it is not about a secular work, but an oratorio: Agar et Ismaele by Alessandro Scarlatti . However, considering that there was not that much difference between opera and oratorio at the time, there are good reasons to include it in this part of my review. It was not written or performed in Naples. It was first performed in Rome in 1683; later performances are documented in Palermo and Florence. Although it has been recorded on disc, I had never heard this work, and therefore I was looking forward to the performance which was to take place in the theatre, the Stadsschouwburg. Immediately after the start of the performance, I was wondering why. There was no staging, the singers didn't wear costumes, just the kind of clothes they could have been wearing at any concert platform, there was hardly any action on the stage, and the singers had the music in their hands. I am not in favour of staging oratorios, which obviously were not meant to be performed like an opera. But if one decides to perform an oratorio in a theatre, it should be staged, otherwise it makes so sense, especially as the sound in TivoliVredenburg is much better than in the Stadsschouwburg. However, there was something special about this performance. Thomas Höft, the stage director (what's in a name in this case?), stated in the programme notes that in the Koran the story continues where it ends in the Bible. He wondered why Scarlatti did omit that part. The answer is very simple: he set what the librettist had written down, who obviously did not include that part. There is nothing odd about that. The Italian oratorio was intended to imprint the teachings of the Church into the hearts and minds of the faithful, and therefore librettists confined themselves to the stories as told in the Bible. It is also questionable whether many people of that time did know what the Koran said about the story of Abraham, Sara, Hagar and Ismael. Anyway, Höft decided to invite the Nouruz Ensemble to play after the end of the oratorio, as a reference to the Koran part. I find this rather artificial and meaningless, but fortunately it was not decided to insert the Arabian music into the oratorio itself. It has five roles, two of which - Sara and the angel - were sung by Claire Lefilliâtre. It was nice to hear her again, and in such good form. Jochen Kupfer (baritone) found the right way to portray Abraham. The sopranist Doron Schleifer was very moving in the role of Ismael. He perfectly expressed the vulnerability and desperation of the young boy. Franziska Gottwald (contralto) was convincing in the role of his mother Hagar, but stylistically she sometimes left a little to be desired. The playing of the Neue Hofkapelle Graz, directed by Michael Hell and Lucia Froihofer, was excellent. All in all, I enjoyed the musical part, but I would have enjoyed it even more in a better acoustic and without all its frills.
Pergolesi, Jommelli: Sacred works 
Francesca Boncompagni, Maria Chiara Gallo, Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri/Giulio Prandi
24 August, TivoliVredenburg
Trabaci: St Mark Passion 
Concerto Soave/Jean-Marc Aymes
24 August, Pieterskerk
Leo: Responsoria 
Nova Ars Cantandi/Giovanni Acciai
26 August, Pieterskerk
"Between church and theatre: Domenico Scarlatti & Jommelli" 
Coro Ghislieri/Giulio Prandi; Schola Gregoriana Ghislieri/Renato Cadel
27 August, Geertekerk
"Piety in Naples: Trabaci, Falconieri, Montella" 
Theatro dei Cervelli/Andrés Locatelli
28 August, Pieterskerk
Jommelli: Requiem 
Vox Luminis, Il Gardellino/Peter Van Heyghen
29 August, Cathedral [Dom]
Le Počme Harmonique/Vincent Dumestre
30 August, Jacobikerk
Durante: Missa per i morti 
Cantar Lontano, CanalGrande Orchestra/Marco Mencoboni
31 August, Jacobikerk
Pergolesi: Stabat mater 
Hana Blaziková, Monika Jägerová, Ensemble Tourbillon/Petr Wagner
31 August, Geertekerk
The fifth and final part of my review concerns performances of sacred music. This part of the festival included some familiar items, such as Pergolesi's Stabat mater, but also compositions nobody had heard before. That certainly goes for the St Mark Passion (Passio secundum Marcum) by Giovanni Maria Trabaci , one of four Passions according to the four gospels. This performance was the world premiere in modern times. Considering that Trabaci was an experimental composer of keyboard music, it was rather surprising that this Passion is written in the stile antico of the renaissance. It is for voices without accompaniment; the narrative is scored for three voices (ATB), whereas the words of the various characters are sung by a solo voice. In the turbae the ensemble is extended for four voices. It is a rather austere work, thanks to the scoring, but also the fact that the harmony is mostly in falsobordone. I liked this work and consider it a major addition to the Passion repertoire. It made me curious to hear the other three Passions as well. Unfortunately the performance by Concerto Soave, directed by Jean-Marc Aymes, was not entirely satisfying. At the start, the three voices of alto, tenor and bass did not blend very well, but that improved during the performance. Even so, the performance of the three singers was less than ideal. For some reasons I can't figure out, Aymes decided to include what I assume to be improvisations on organ and harp during the performance, often at inappropriate moments, by doing so breaking up the tension. He sometimes also accompanied the singers in the way of a basso seguente. Sticking to what the composer has written down is always the best way to perform a piece. I had looked forward to this performance, but it was not quite what I had hoped for.
Trabaci was also on the programme of the ensemble Theatro dei Cervelli, directed by Andrés Locatelli , but then only with instrumental pieces. The concert was entitled "Devotion in Naples", and included two kinds of sacred works in a different style. On the one hand we heard relatively simple pieces, laude spirituali, sacred chants in the vernacular, which were an important tool of the church to imprint the ideals of the Counter Reformation into the hearts and minds of common people. On the other hand, the ensemble performed sacred concertos in the modern monodic style, mostly by anonymous composers. In the line-up and the performance, the ensemble made a clear distinction between the two genres. The laude were performed with voices alone, sometimes with the addition of theorbo, recorder and organ, but - as they are written in the stile antico - with only moderate dynamic contrasts. In the motets, on the other hand, the singers made use of the messa di voce, which is very praiseworthy, and added much ornamentation in the style of the period. The four singers showed their full command of the performance practice of the time, both in their stylish ornamentation and in their attention to the text. Esther Labourdette, Jacopo Facchini, Akinobu Ono and Marco Saccardin (who also played the theorbo) gave an excellent account of themselves, both individually and together as an ensemble. The Theatro dei Cervelli, directed by Andrés Locatelli, who also played the recorder, may have been founded only a few years ago, they have already achieved a high level of musicianship and interpretation. The motets, most of them by anonymous composers, were of excellent quality. The programme also included some nice instrumental items, among them Trabaci's Partite artificiose, delightfully performed on the harp by Marta Graziolino. This concert definitely ranks among the best of this festival. I hope that this ensemble will return in one of the next editions and I can't wait to hear them on disc.
In 17th and 18th-century Naples church and street were not separated, nor were 'high' and 'low' culture. That was the starting point of a programme which Le Počme Harmonique, directed by Vincent Dumestre, performed at the Jacobikerk; it was entitled "Anamorfosi" . The singers and players started by moving through the church like in a kind of procession, performing one of the laude spirituali which were part of the programme. We also heard pieces which were written on a secular text, such as Monteverdi's Si dolce č'l tormento, but here performed as a contrafactum with a sacred text: "So sweet is the pain I feel in my chest, that Jesus will keep that great joy". Adapting a piece in this way was a very common practice at the time. A secular cantata by Luigi Rossi, Un allato messagier, was sung on a new text about the passion of Christ. The concert ended with Allegri's famous Miserere, but not in one of the 18th- or 19th-century arrangements usually performed today. It was rather sung with falsobordone harmonies and with improvised ornamentation. This way it had a much stronger emotional impact; the later versions are just too ethereal. The singing and playing was of a high level, and the ensemble made clever use of the space. It was a memorable event - that is probably a better word than concert. The programme will probably be recorded on disc, but that is not the same as a live performance. I was happy to have been able to attend this event.
In Naples Francesco Durante occupied a special place in music life. Unlike most of his colleagues, he never composed any opera, and was considered rather conservative. In his oeuvre counterpoint has an important part, and that comes especially to the fore in his sacred music, for which he was particularly known. Marco Mencoboni performed his Missa per i morti with his ensemble Cantar Lontano and the CanalGrande Orchestra . This Requiem, dating from 1746, is scored for two choirs of different composition: the first consists of five voices (SSATB), the second of three lower voices (ATB), which mostly act as ripienists. Although this work includes some solo episodes, it is mainly scored for choir and orchestra. When I went to this concert, I expected to hear something I had not heard before. It was only after the concert that I discovered that I had a recording in my collection, released only a few years ago, in which Stephen Darlington directs his Christ Church Cathedral Choir Oxford, an all-male choir in the English tradition. That is probably not the most appropriate kind of ensemble for this piece, and although the performance is better than I expected, it left something to be desired as far as the expression is concerned. Mencoboni's performance came closer to exploring the expressive qualities of this Requiem, although from a stylistic angle it was certainly not ideal. That was partly due to the soloists who acted too much as opera singers. In the 'Tuba mirum' the soprano included a virtuosic cadenza, and here I have my doubts, also considering that Durante never wrote any opera. The same happened in the 'Dies illa' section of the 'Libera me'. The soloists used more vibrato than they should have, and the choir was not entirely free from it either. Mencoboni indicated in his programme notes that the score includes indications regarding the volume, such as forte and dolce. Sometimes I found the singing of the tutti a bit too aggressive and too heavy. A little more differentiation would not have been amiss. The orchestra, with its leader Christoph Timpe, was excellent, and played a notable role in the expression of especially the Sequentia. One thing is for sure: Durante's Requiem is a very fine work, which deserves to be better known and to be performed more often.
One of the artists in residence was Giulio Prandi, who gave two concerts with his Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri. On the first Saturday night  he was given the honour to take care of the concert which is a special gift to the circle of Friends, one of the pillars of the festival. Ghislieri has performed to great success several times in the Netherlands, especially in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Its programmes are mostly unconventional, and that was the case here as well. For many Niccolň Jommelli may well be a largely unknown quantity, and if he is known, it is mostly for his operatic output, although that is hardly explored to date. The programme started with his setting of the Dixit Dominus, which includes several highly dramatic verses. One can leave it to an opera composer like Jommelli to explore them. The other work in the programme was just as surprising: the Mass in D by Pergolesi, which consists of a Kyrie and Gloria. Both works comprise tutti and solo sections, the latter largely for soprano and alto respectively. Francesca Boncompagni and Maria Chiara Gallo dealt impressively with the technical challenges of the solo parts, which in both works are highly operatic. Stylistically there was far less to enjoy, due to an incessant vibrato from especially Boncompagni and sometimes exaggerated cadenzas, let alone the screaming on the top notes. Overall both works were performed well, thanks to the excellent qualities of choir and orchestra. I had some doubts about Pergolesi; I just wondered whether it was too much performed in the same style as Jommelli. Often I found the tutti a bit aggressive and overly loud.
In the second concert the choir of the ensemble was on its own, again directed by Prandi, in a programme of choral music of more moderate proportions . The programme started with the Missa quatuor vocum by Alessandro Scarlatti, also known as Messa di Madrid, because it is preserved in the royal library of Spain. It is for four voices; here it was decided to play a basso seguente at the organ. Maria Cecilia Farina played the Sonata in d minor (K 52) by Domenico Scarlatti before the Benedictus, as - according to the programme notes - it includes references to the Passion of Christ. This was just one liturgical element; the other was the insertion of plainchant from the liturgy for Maundy Thursday. The sonata is one of my favourite Scarlatti sonatas, dominated by counterpoint, and I often wondered how it would sound at the organ. Here I got the answer: perfect. Scarlatti's mass is written in the stile antico, as was customary in Italy at the time (and especially in Rome), and so was Jommelli's setting of Miserere mei Deus, one of the penitential psalms, also connected to Passiontime, as the penitential psalms were sung during Lent. However, Jommelli once again did not betray his credentials as an opera composer as this alternatim setting included some very dramatic passages. One of them the repetition by the whole ensemble of the words "libera me". Some of the solo passages were reminiscent of opera. The singing was excellent, and I was more convinced of the interpretation than last Saturday. There was more of a difference in approach between the two composers, who belong to different style periods, than on Saturday between Pergolesi and Jommelli. The performance of the plainchant was perfect.
For me Jommelli's sacred music was one of the discoveries of this year's festival. I have come to the conclusion that he really was an excellent composer, not only of music for the stage, but also of religious music. That was once again demonstrated in his Requiem, which was performed in the Cathedral by the vocal ensemble Vox Luminis and the baroque orchestra Il Gardellino, directed by Peter Van Heyghen . Jommelli mixes traditional counterpoint with the aesthetic ideals of his own time. With its length of about 40 minutes it is a substantial piece which could easily be used as an alternative to Mozart's Requiem. One of the strengths of Vox Luminis is that all of its members are capable of taking care of solos, even demandings ones, without ever compromising the quality of the ensemble. In the tutti the blending is immaculate, and there is a strong stylistic coherence between soli and tutti. This is in line with how music was conceived during the 17th and 18th centuries: not scored for soloists, choir and orchestra, but for an ensemble of singers and instrumentalists. The cooperation between Vox Luminis and Il Gardellino resulted in a nearly perfect interpretation, under the firm control of Peter Van Heyghen. Thanks to this year's festival Jommelli is now more than just a name. His sacred works deserve to be part of the repertoire of choirs of our time.
For the last two concerts in this review I return to where I started, with music for Holy Week. Not only Jommelli, but also Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was mainly known for his operas. Even those who know him, will probably never have heard any sacred music from his pen. Giovanni Acciai directed his ensemble Nova Ars Cantandi in his Responsories for Holy Week . The scoring is very simple: four voices and basso continuo. These Responsories are a mixture of the stile antico and the style of Leo's own time. He does not betray his operatic credentials, as these works include some quite dramatic passages. Leo pays much attention to the text and aims at a precise translation into his music. Unfortunately that was hard to grasp for the audience, as the church was completely darkened, except some candles around the singers. One has to turn to the recent CD recording (Archiv) to become acquainted with the way Leo has set the words to music. Even so, if one does have a general knowledge of the content of the Responsories, it was quite clear that these are a major and important addition to the Passion repertoire. The qualities of these pieces came off quite well in the performance. The four voices blended perfectly, despite the rather penetrating voice of sopranist Alessandro Carmignola. The performers were not afraid to create some marked dynamic contrasts. The church was probably half full, but those who did attend, were clearly impressed by what they heard, and rightly so.
A festival devoted to Naples cannot do without a performance of what is undoubtedly the most famous composition ever written there: the Stabat mater by Pergolesi. On the first Sunday, Gli Angeli Genčve, directed by Stephan MacLeod, included it in a concert with four settings of this text. I did not attend that concert, but I heard this work on the last Saturday night, right after the concert of L'Arpeggiata. It was the perfect antidote, just what I needed. I had expected Hana Blaziková (soprano) and Monika Jägerová (mezzo-soprano), with the ensemble Tourbillion, directed by Petr Wagner , to come up with something special. My expectations were exceeded. Singers and ensemble delivered a riveting and highly emotional performance. It was probably the best performance I have ever heard. Who said that vibrato is needed to bring out the expression of a piece? Both singers avoided it, and because of that their voices blended perfectly in the duets. Both paid utmost attention to the text and its emotional content. The ensemble considerably contributed to the emotional impact of this performance through colourful and dynamically differentiated playing. This was the best possible conclusion of my festival 2019.
Johan van Veen (© 2019)
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