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Concert reviews

"Sculpting the Fabric"
La Vaghezza
concert: Oct 24, 2022, Utrecht, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676): Canzona ā 3; Andrea FALCONIERI (1585/86-1656): Folias echa para mi Seņora Doņa Tarolilla de Carallenos; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1589-1643): Sonata VII; Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1585): Giovane donna sott'un verde lauro Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): La Zorzi; Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665): Ballo detto Eccardo; Ballo detto Gennaro; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Cor mio non mori? E mori! (SV 77); Salomone ROSSI (1570-c1630): Sinfonia IX; Francesco TURINI (c1589-1656): Sonata a doi violini 2° tuono; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Bergamasca

Mayah Kadish, Ignacio Ramal, violin; Anastasia Baraviera, cello; Gianluca Geremia, theorbo; Marco Crosetto, harpsichord, organ

Around 1600 a new style emerged in Italy. Part of it was the birth of opera and of the monodic style in vocal music, in which the solo voice played a key role. It also resulted in a large repertoire of instrumental music, often technically demanding. Composers started to write pieces for one or several solo instruments as well as for instrumental ensembles. Often the choice of instruments was left to the performers, but the combination of two violins and basso continuo was a particularly popular one, and it developed into the most frequently-used, when the cornett was pushed into the side-lines. That happened in the last decades of the 17th century.

The instrumental music written in Italy in the 17th century, and in particular its first half, is very popular among performers and ensembles of our time. Unfortunately, they often play the same pieces. That was different in the concert of the ensemble La Vaghezza which took place in Hertz in TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht. Only two pieces in the programme were more or less familiar.

The programme was divided into four sections. The best-known item was Francesco Cavalli's Sonata ā 3, whose character betrays the dramatic instincts of the composer. It is a specimen of the stylus phantasticus, in which sections of contrasting characters follow each other without interruption. This was the central item of the first section, and was embraced by two balli. Such pieces had their origin in opera. Dance music would continue to be part of French opera, but was omitted from the Italian opera seria around 1700. Balli could also be written and performed as independent instrumental music.

The second section opened with a madrigal by Claudio Monteverdi. It was not an instrumental performance of the madrigal as it was written by Monteverdi himself, but rather a set of diminutions on the upper part, played by Mayah Kadish. This is part of a fairly recent development. Diminutions were an important genre in Italy in the decades around 1600, and several treatises were published which instructed the reader how to make his own diminutions. They include examples, and these are often performed. Recently several performers have started to use the treatises as what they are intended for, and play diminutions of their own making. This is a very important development which can result in exciting 'new' early music. The diminutions were followed by a sonata by Giovanni Battista Fontana, one of the main composers of virtuosic instrumental sonatas.

Fontana was a violinist by profession, and so was Biagio Marini, who left a large repertoire of vocal and instrumental music, of which a considerable part has been lost. His Opus 1 is called Affetti Musicali; this title can be considered programmatic, as the expression of affetti was one of the main purposes of the new style. This collection, dating from 1617, includes sinfonias for two instruments and basso continuo, intended for either two cornetts or two violins. With the ensuing piece, Bergamasca, we took a step towards the last quarter of the 17th century. This piece was taken from a collection of compositions for a string bass and basso continuo by Giovanni Battista Vitali. He used the word violone for this instrument, but that should not be interpreted as the 16' instrument that is often used in baroque orchestras, but rather as something comparable with the cello. In this piece the cello that Anastasia Baraviera played, may have been appropriate. In the earlier repertoire it was rather anachronistic, as until the last quarter of the 17th century it was the viola da gamba or the bass violin that was used as string bass. This piece is based on a basso ostinato, another very popular form of the time. The sonata by Francesco Turini that ended this section was also dominated by repetition, not a basso ostinato, but repeated material of a different kind.

In the fourth and last section we heard more than mentioned in the programme. It opened with an organ solo, played by Marco Crosetto, an instrumental version of Andrea Gabrieli's madrigal Giovane donna sott'un verde lauro, which was then played with diminutions, this time by Ignacio Ramal. We then heard a solo on the theorbo, played by Gianluca Geremia, which led to one of the sinfonias by Salamone Rossi, who was Jewish and has become best-known for his psalm settings in Hebrew. The programme ended with another piece based on a repeated pattern, the Folia. Andrea Falconieri is certainly not an unknown quantity. His oeuvre is well represented on disc. One of the better-known pieces is the one with which the ensemble ended its concert, the Folias echa para mi Seņora Doņa Tarolilla de Garallenos. It is quite popular among performers and that is not without a reason. It is a brilliant and exciting piece in which they can let their hair down.

And that is exactly what the members of La Vaghezza did. The ensemble has won several prizes in competitions in Italy and Germany, and that is easy to understand. I liked their engaging style of playing and their visible enthusiasm. Their technical skills are impressive, and they have what it takes to bring the repertoire of the early baroque era to life. Performers need creativity and the courage to take risks. The members of La Vaghezza showed that they fully understand this. They are not afraid of contrasts in tempo and dynamics, which are important features of this repertoire. Their performances were rightly received with great enthusiasm, which led to an encore.

La Vaghezza is an ensemble to keep an eye on, and definitely worth being invited to the Utrecht Early Music Festival.

Johan van Veen (Š 2022)

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