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Concert reviews

"Venetian colours in Vienna"

Suonar Cantando/Bojan Cicic
concert: Nov 27, 2012, Utrecht, Geertekerk

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Chiacona; Sonata a 3 in d minor; Sonata a 3 in A; Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): Sinfonia Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo; Vinko JELIC (c1596-1636): Ricercar I in A; Ricercar III in G; Alessandro POGLIETTI (?-1683): Variazioni sopra L'Eta della Maesta Vostra; Richardo ROGNONI (c1550-1620): Ancor che col partire, passegiato; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1620-1680): Harmonia a 5 in B flat; Sonata Cuc¨ in A; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in C (RV 171); Sonata al Santo Sepolcro a 4 in E flat (RV 130)

Bojan Cicic, violin; Lidewij van der Voort, Jacek Kurzydlo, violin, viola; Joseph Tan, viola; Cassandra Luckhardt, viola da gamba, cello; Miguel Tantos Sevillano, sackbut; Lynda Sayce, theorbo; Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord, organ

The connection between Vienna and Italy is well documented. During the 17th and 18th centuries the imperial court in Vienna was dominated by composers and performing musicians from Italy. The concert by the ensemble Suonar Cantando concentrated on the music by composers who for some time during their career worked in Vienna. The pogramme started with the one composer who never worked there, though, and even was not from Venice, although the treatise which has made him especially famous, Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire, was printed there. His passaggi on De Rore's madrigal Ancor che col partire for violin and bc mark the shift from the renaissance to the baroque, and show how music written in the stile antico was used as a vehicle for the instrumental virtuosity which was one of the hallmarks of the stile nuovo. It also offered Bojan Cicic the opportunity to show his skills, which are not confined to an impressive technique, but also include the imagination to bring such a piece to life.

The first part of the concert was the most interesting as the music was mostly lesser-known. That is certainly the case with the two pieces by Vinko Jelic, who was born in Fiume - which is now part of Croatia and is called Rijeka - and studied and worked for some years in Graz, at the court of Archduke Ferdinand. In his programme notes Cicic suggested he lived there most of his life, but at least according to New Grove he entered the service of Ferdinand's brother Leopold at Zabern, Alsace, in 1618. Therefore the connection with the court in Vienna is rather loose. Two ricercares were played, one of them with a part for the sackbut. This part is quite virtuosic, and bears witness to the high standard of sackbut playing in the first half of the 17th century (which is well documented in recordings by ensembles like the Caecilia-Concert). Miguel Tantos Sevillano gave an impressive account of his part, and so did Cassandra Luckhardt who performed the part for the viola da gamba in the other ricercar.

An important composer at the court in Vienna was Antonio Bertali. It seems he served at the court since 1624, but the first firm evidence of his presence dates from 1631, when he is listed as an instrumentalist in the imperial chapel. In 1649 he was appointed Kapellmeister. Shortly after his death two collections with 24 sonatas in total were printed under the title of Prothimia suavissima, scored for three or four voices and bc. From the first collection two three-part sonatas were performed. As he himself was a violinist there can be little doubt that these reflect his own virtuosity as a performer. In both the third part was played at the sackbut, although these were probably intended for the viola da gamba. That doesn't necessarily exclude a performance at the sackbut, and as we have seen this instrument had often virtuosic parts to play; therefore the parts in these sonatas were not unsuitable for the sackbut, which was again brilliantly played by Sevillano. Quite astonishing was the Chiacona for violin and bc, a long and brilliant showpiece which wasn't lost on Bojan Cicic, Lynda Sayce and Mahan Esfahani, who delivered an exciting performance. I wondered whether they probably secretly smuggled in some modern elements, though.

The only non-Italian in the programme was Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. He was one of the few non-Italian musicians who was employed at the court, first as violinist, and from 1679 also as Kapellmeister. But only one year later he died of the plague. Harmonia a 5 is scored for solo violin and an ensemble of violin, two violas and bc. It is close to the style of the consort music which was already rather old-fashioned at his time - but highly appreciated by the Habsburg emperors - with the violin part pointing to the future. Here we heard the qualities of Suonar Cantando as an ensemble. Schmelzer's Sonata Cuc¨ is an example of a descriptive piece - a genre which was quite popular at the time as the works of violin virtuosos such as Biber and Johann Jakob Walther prove. It received an imaginative reading from Bojan Cicic.

The second part of the programme was devoted to the second stage, as it were, in the Italian influence in Vienna, with composers like Caldara and Vivaldi. The exception was Alessandro Poglietti who was appointed court and chamber organist in the chapel of emperor Leopold I in 1661. He composed a number of keyboard works which are in fact counterparts to the descriptive pieces for violin of the likes of Schmelzer and Biber. Some of them are quite long and can be quite bizarre now and then. The variations on the birthday of the empress are rather modest, though, but certainly not without imagination and technically demanding. They received an engaging and compelling performance from Mahan Esfahani.

Caldara is still not that well-known, but his oratorio Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo, written for performances during Lent, has been recorded several times. Vivaldi, on the other hand, is one of the most frequently-played composers these days. His music was very popular north of the Alps and various works were commissioned by aristocrats outside Italy. In 1740 he travelled to Vienna, probably for the performance of some of his operas. Bojan Cicic played a violin concerto which was dedicated to the emperor, Charles VI. The latter died that year, Vivaldi the next, also in Vienna, and was given a pauper's burial. The Sonata a Santo Sepolcro is a highly expressive piece in two movements; the slow tempo in the first, starting at the bass which is then joined gradually by the other voices, was quite effective. The Concerto for violin in C (RV 171) is a typical Vivaldian concerto, with a virtuosic solo part in the fast movements, and much expression in the largo. It was given a nice interpretation, both by Cicic in the solo part and the ensemble in the tutti.

This concert was part of the first tour of Suonar Cantando through the Netherlands and Belgium. It was the first time I heard it, and hopefully not the last.

Johan van Veen (ę 2012)

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