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Concert reviews

"Ayres and Capriccios"
Lidewij van der Voort, violin; Fred Jacobs, theorbo
concert: Oct 12, 2023, Zeist, Church of the Community of Moravian Brethren

Thomas BALTZAR (1630-1663): Almond; An Italian Ground; John come kiss me now, division on a ground; Prelude; Nicolas HOTMAN (1610-1663): Allemande; Passacaille; John JENKINS (1592-1678): 4 Airs; 3 Corants; Saraband; Matthew LOCKE (1621/22-1677): Suite V 'for several friends' in F; Nicola MATTEIS (1650-1714): Andamento affettuoso; Ground after the Scotch humour; Minuetto con sua Divisione; Movimento incognito; Prelude a due corde

During the first half of the 17th century a new style dissiminated across large parts of Europe. One of its main exponents was the violin, which was given virtuosic music to play. England remained untouched by the new stylistic fever. The violin was played, but almost exclusively in consort music, as an alternative to the treble viol. No wonder that the German violinist Thomas Baltzar caused a sensation, when in 1655 he settled in England and showed a way of playing that English audiences had never heard before.

The juxtaposition of old and new was the subject of a recital by Lidewij van der Voort and Fred Jacobs. Their programme was entitled "Ayres and Capriccios". The ayr was a typical English genre; many consort pieces of that title were written. The capriccio is, as the term indicates, a capricious piece, which holds many surprises and is utterly impredictable. That was one of the hallmarks of the style of which Baltzar was an exponent.

The artists started with four pieces by John Jenkins, first two airs, followed by a corant and a saraband. These are typical exponents of the style in vogue in England at the time. Such pieces are often close to traditional music, and they were played in this manner, with verve and a certain lightness. They were followed by four pieces by Baltzar, and this way the audience was allowed to experience the astonishment of the English audiences in the mid-17th century. The first piece, a Prelude for unaccompanied violin, set the tone, with its wide jumps and double stopping. This was a perfect example of a capricious piece, brilliantly played by Lidewij van der Voort. It was followed by one of Baltzar's best-known pieces, divisions on a popular ground, John come kiss me now. In a way Baltzar linked up with English tradition by taking a popular tune, and using the form of a ground, which was very popular in England. A comparable piece, An Italian Ground, closed this section, preceded by an Almond for unaccompanied violin.

Next followed Matthew Locke, a composer who did not have a high opinion of 'foreign music', and although he composed music with basso continuo, the main part of his oeuvre consists of consort music in the English tradition. The twelve suites from the collection For Several Friends are interesting in that they show a composer somewhere between the 'old' and the 'new' style. They are written for two instruments: the upper voice is for treble viol or violin, the second for a bass viol - here played on the theorbo. These suites include a basso continuo part, but this is optional, which means that it can be omitted, as was the case here. The Suite V in F opens with a fantasia, followed by six dances. Here the rhythm is the main issue, and in the performance this came perfectly off. I found it hard to keep my feet still, and that is exactly what a performance of such music should bring about.

Fred Jacobs then played two pieces for theorbo by Nicolas Hotman, a viol and theorbo player of Flemish birth who made a career in France. He was never in England, and therefore he was more or less the odd man out in the programme. These pieces may have been included to document the French influences in the English music scene in the mid-17th century. Fred Jacobs is one of today's best theorbo players, whose art is documented on many recordings. These pieces allowed him to show his skills as a soloist; the Passacaille was especially impressive.

The performers then turned to Jenkins again, with four pieces, two further airs and two corants. This was a useful introduction to the last section of the programme: five pieces by Nicola Matteis, who was of Neapolitan birth, and stupefied the English audiences with his playing, very much in the manner of Baltzar, but then with strong theatrical traces, as one may expect from a composer who had learnt his skills in the city of opera. By playing these pieces immediately after some of Jenkins, the differences were clearly exposed. The sequence opened with a Prelude a due corde, which included much double stopping. With the second piece, Minuetto con sua divisione, we moved to the genre of the divisions again. Matteis found it hard to find his feet in England, but was able to adapt to the English music scene, for instance by using English tunes, like a Ground after the Scotch humour. That piece closed the programme. Before that we heard one of the most exuberant pieces of the evening, the Movimento incognito.

This concert offered a nice survey of what changed in the English music scene of the 17th century, and how much English tradition and the music of 'foreigners' differed. Lidewij van der Voort and Fred Jacobs deserve praise for the way they put together this interesting and instructive programme, and for performing the selected pieces in such a manner, that it did not result not in an academic discourse, but in a compelling and entertaining event.

A part of their programme has just been released on disc, and this concert was a perfect recommendation.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

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