Anyone who has decided to get carried away by the storm of concerts that have happened these days, as is customary, at the Utrecht Festival of Ancient Music will have been able to get a very clear idea of several of the most important current interpretive trends within a field that , somehow, it has its own life and physiognomy. He will also have learned, and much, about the music that was made in Naples over no less than six centuries: far from being complete, the panorama must have been the most ambitious ever proposed, with concerts dedicated to monographs to composers of the that hearing a single work in the usual programming is already a rarity. The proximity in time allows, in addition, to easily draw comparisons and correlations between interpretations of the same work or establish similarities and divergences between musicians and groups that address similar repertoires.
Exactly one week apart, for example, and in the same scenario, one of those works has been heard that, for obvious reasons, should usually sound in our country: Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti, who lived for much of his professional life in Madrid. On August 25, Gli Angeli Genève performed it, while on September 1 he gave life, at the closing concert of the festival, Vox Luminis. The differences between both versions have been abysmal: the first, directed by Stephan MacLeod, showed ostensible imbalances and it was not easy to follow or understand the complex ten-voice polyphony of the Neapolitan composer. The second, however, without a director, was a paragon of transparency, of logic, of virtuosity in the expression of all the threads of the contrapuntal tissue, compatible with a perfect diction of the text.
The Stabat Mater It is a work for ten truly solo voices. Both Gli Angeli Genève and Vox Luminis had great singers, but three essential differences separated them: the time dedicated to rehearsals, the conception of how a group should face this repertoire and, not least, the experience and knowledge of The work itself. The Swiss formation seemed to have mounted this work specifically for the concert offered in Utrecht, while the Belgian group has been performing since its birth fifteen years ago, to the point that it was the one they chose to record on their first album. Ten excellent singers do not form a unitary and truly homogeneous whole, which is precisely what could be perceived in the soulless sum of individualities of Gli Angeli Genève. His colleagues, on the other hand, have their own and unmistakable sound, a perfectly identifiable interpretative approach and, without renouncing their different personalities, a shared identity.
That they have been entrusted with the closing concert of the festival is a privilege that they have won with their interventions of their last years and with which they have finally broken the curse of several recent disappointing festival finals, because no one could leave unsatisfied with a coherent program (a toccata and a curious archaizing madrigal of the palermitano Alessandri Scarlatti, Neapolitan of adoption, and three sonatas and four sacred vocal works of Domenico, Neapolitan by birth), with perfect tonal, textual and thematic connections between the pieces, interpreted as a compact block with the seriousness and with that halo of depth that always involve the concerts of Vox Luminis. There were a couple of notes of spatiality (the successive intonations in flat song of Robert Buckland progressing progressively through the galleries to completely cross the octagonal shape of the room, the madrigal interpreted by five voices and tiorba also high, among the public) and the lucid tone, which had also characterized his interpretation on Thursday night in the cathedral, together with the group Il Gardellino, of the very little known Requiem by Niccolò Jommelli, contrasted with the final celebratory atmosphere, in which the tenor Raffaele Giordani sang with as much discretion as emotion one of the great classics of the Neapolitan song, ’O surdato’ nnammurato.
At the Gli Angeli Genève concert, one of the great masterpieces of music born in Naples has also been played: Stabat Mater from Pergolesi. His version was too contrived and with tempi excessively forced. Last Saturday night there was the possibility of a new comparison, in this case with two different scenarios, since the concert of the Ensemble Tourbillon had been programmed, with good judgment, in the Geertekerk, a smaller space than the great hall of TivoliVredenburg and more suitable for the intimacy demanded by Pergolesi's work, although its great resonance demands to maximize the dynamics. There were also two excellent singers: the soprano Hana Blažíková (omnipresent in the templates of the best groups of ancient music) and the mezzo-soprano Monika Jägerová, also possessing a high quality voice, although less experienced than her countryman.
However, the direction of the Violambista Petr Wagner was disappointing from beginning to end: coarse, at times even hurtful, seemed to flee deliberately from all delicacy and raise, on the contrary, a violent, almost fierce, version of Mary's suffering at the feet from the cross. Encouraged, or at least not contained by Wagner, Blažíková often sang too loudly (as Ana Quintans had done the previous Sunday), as if emotional intensity had to go hand in hand with the sound lawlessness. The Ensemble Tourbillon also didn't make a big impression and the tempi rushed and lacking rest imposed by Wagner posed an added obstacle. There were only a few enjoyable moments (the section When corpus morietur, the best of the concert), thanks above all to the great vocal quality of both singers, but neither of the two interpretations heard these days has managed to do justice to this authentic masterpiece of Neapolitan imprint music.
Almost the opposite could be said of the concert offered at Jacobikerk on Friday afternoon by the French group Le Poème Harmonique (with the Spanish harpist Sara Águeda among its ranks). It was enough to see the program made by its director, Vincent Dumestre, to verify that what awaited us was a very well thought out proposal, which began in the profane and bustling Naples of its streets to enter immediately in its baroque churches, with both worlds – profanity and religious, salt water and holy water – almost, or literally, indistinguishable, as in the various works born according to the technique of counterfactum, that is, secular pieces in their origin that are replaced by a sacred text without hardly changing their musical identity. Or what Dumestre calls, borrowing a term from the art world, anamorphosis, since what is seen (heard) seems very different from what is portrayed, although, after adopting the appropriate point of view, it finally reveals itself. Its true essence.
The French director mastered the two essential variables – time and space – of every great concert, and his was from beginning to end. His musicians came to the stage processioning from the back of the church, singing Venite, or voi gentile, an anonymous piece of festive air that encouraged "to thank the Lord." And soon there was a play by one of the musicians who were active in Naples and we have missed more these days, Luigi Rossi, whose regret A Cavalier Ferito (which the Queen of Sweden sings after Gustavo Adolfo II's death) becomes, by the work and grace of the invasive counter-reformist spirit, An allato messagier, a deploration for the death of Christ. The work was interpreted by one of the greatest discoveries of these days: the French mezzo-soprano Eva Zaïcik. With a total mastery of the sprezzatura, a perfect diction and a deep voice, ductile, rich and full of resources, raised the concert to heights that would not leave until the end. They followed works of Monteverdi (in which again the loving passions or the bellicose spirit of Altri canti di Marte they became, thanks to their new text, in mystical outbursts), anonymous and purely instrumental, in which the eight lumberjacks of the group (including Dumestre al lute itself) shone, although it cannot fail to stand out to the cornetist Adrien Mabire, who every time he passes through Utrecht, he confirms that, today, he heads the ranks of his instrument: for the quality of his sound, for the stylistic adaptation of his improvisations and for a contagious musicality that shines at all times with his own light. He and Eva Zaïzik were the two great beacons of an exceptional concert.
Dumestre had raised a sequence of works that were intertwining naturally and culminating in the famous Miserere of Allegri, although stripped of all the romantic fantasies with which she usually dresses, although leaving at the same time her sopranos who freely improvise at the cadential points. He placed his singers in the middle and on both sides of the central nave, answering one choir to another until the nine voices joined in the “tunc imposnt super altare tuum vitulos" final. It was an intimate closure and he did not seek easy applause, in line with all the previous one, but Dumestre had managed to keep the entire audience amazed and focused from beginning to end. O gloriose martyr, a profane madrigal sacralized by Monteverdi himself, and the end of Il earthquake Antonio Draghi's were the double response to the more than justified enthusiasm of the fans that filled the church.
Applause, however, is not the measure of anything. It is likely that many of those who acclaimed Le Poème Harmonique did the same the next day at the concert of L’Arpeggiata, a group worshiped in Utrecht, since much of their success has been cemented here. They are cheered as soon as they leave the stage, before they have played or sung a single note. His concert was, however, an indigestible succession of clichés and jokes in an atmosphere of generalized jocundia: Christina Pluhar, its director, seems determined to convince us that ancient music is –have to Be fun. At the time, at the beginning of the previous decade, L’Arpeggiata was a breath of fresh air in the world then still very rigid and polarized of ancient music. The problem is that, twenty years later, the group has become a poor cartoon of itself. Many of its members (the most soprano, Celine Scheen, delighted to be part of the party) spent the concert laughing and making ostensible gestures of how much they were having fun. The public also laughed thanks, regardless of the fact that, musically, what was heard was of infinite poverty. With incessant ostinati in the very rich section of the continuum so that their instrumentalists could improvise in a jazz way (a trick that they have been exploiting for years), almost nothing they did made much sense, except at all costs looking for easy public entertainment. With four Spaniards in their ranks, it is hard to get used to seeing a serious and capable musician like Josetxu Obregón participating in this astracanada. Who seemed more disconnected from laughter and widespread uproar was the cornetist Doron Sherwin, a member of the group since its inception, who now also plays well below the extraordinary level he used to exhibit a few years ago.
A few hours later, Sunday morning, L'Arpeggiata repeated full in the TivoliVredenburg (a room where it is not easy to exhaust the towns) with his old program around the tarantella, which they performed in 2002 in the auditorium of the College of Doctors of Madrid. What is heard now is also a shadow of that, with the dancer Anna Dego banalizing her interventions of yesteryear and with worse singers (the almost white and transparent voice of Vincenzo Capezzuto was literally inaudible throughout the concert) and instrumentalists, although the show Sergey Saprichev's circus with two tambourines was applauded. The adjective is not exaggerated: such a concert is the perfect embodiment of the panem et circenses Roman. It consoled to see that a pair of children of five or six years were absorbed and without taking their eyes off the stage for a moment: in reality, it is a spectacle for them. They were just 50 minutes of concert crowned with the same tip repeated twice, the second with the incentive of dancing to the stage a poor unsuspecting who was sitting in the front row, while Christina Pluhar claimed the inevitable palms accompanied by a dumbfounded audience. An embarrassment
A couple of musicians who have left L’Arpeggiata (or vice versa, you never know), violinist Veronika Skuplik and soprano Nuria Rial, have created a small-scale excision called UrgentMusic. His concert had very little history and the program, with an outstanding presence of Andrea Falconieri, was less washed away than those offered by his former mentor, but abounded in reverberations that immediately referred to the group with which they have collaborated so many years. Rial tried to fill the notorious expressive deficiencies of his voice with a constant gesturing and ended up singing out of the program a covered version of O sole mine, which shows that there is still room for the bar to continue lowering. The violinist Evgueni Sviridov (hollow virtuosity and with traces of modern violinist) and the harpist Mara Galassi (flat readings without any musical interest) must also be part of the disappointments chapter. The problem, on Friday, of the concerts offered by Dolce Conforto (with the very interesting soprano Marie Lys) and the Ensemble Odyssee (with the too emphatic Raffaella Milanesi) was not so much the interpretation as the very low interest of the repertoire addressed. Although his approach was again flawless, the second concert of Sing Lontano and Marco Mencoboni, with the Requiem of Francesco During the Jacobikerk, he also didn't leave the excellent taste of his Vespers by Diego Ortiz, partly because it is a very atomized music, with good musical ideas barely developed, and partly because perhaps an excessive number of singers and instrumentalists saturated the acoustic abilities of the Jacobikerk at various times.
But, better than abounding in the negative, it is to remember briefly what the final stretch of the Utrecht Festival has been exceptional, a list that should be headed without any doubt by the concert offered on Saturday at the Willibrordkerk (one of the two Catholic churches in the city center) by La Fonte Musica with a program of anonymous pieces and two figures wrapped in the darkness of the glorious Italian musical thirteen: Antonello and Filippotto da Caserta. Like the previous and unforgettable concerts of medieval music at the beginning of the week (starring Le Miroir de Musique and Ensemble Leones), Michele Pasotti is not a lover of speculation or invention, but of letting the original sources speak (hence the name of his group). With four singers and five exceptional instrumentalists (he himself in the lute drawing the tempo of music with the oscillating movement of his body), he also resorted to spatiality to enrich technically outstanding interpretations. The ten minutes of In attendantby Filippotto da Caserta, they were enough to compensate by far all the forgettable and unnecessary concerts of these days.
Ascent in the pulpit of the church, Alena Dantcheva shelved the French text and the sinuous vocal line with a mastery, intensity and emotion that few sopranos could match. The other singers, located at the top of the opposite gallery, joined her in the final verse of each stanza ("Per sa dignité et très noble puissance"). In other pieces, Pasotti played with the resource of doubling or not voices and / or instruments to introduce greater variety, making the three sopranos sing in unison (Francesca Cassinari and Alice Borciani demonstrated an equally exceptional quality) in the final quartet of the poem of the madrigal Of the glorious titoloby Antonello da Caserta, the work that closed one of which has undoubtedly been one of the best concerts of the festival. La Fonte Musica is a perfectly unknown group in Spain, which is also where the Bulgarian soprano Alena Dantcheva has lived for years. But many programmers are still trapped in the dictatorship of big names and repeated formulas and repertoires ad infinitum.
Lutherse Kerk, the smallest of those that regularly host concerts, has been, as usual, the setting for daily key concerts, which have allowed us to listen to unusual and extremely interesting programs. After the extraordinary tribute to Giovanni Maria Trabaci by Marco Mencoboni, already commented in a previous chronicle, Jean-Marc Aymes – more serious and less expansive and creative than the Italian – did the same with Giovanni de Macque, held by the founder of the school Neapolitan keyboard music. He highlighted the ability of French to create clear textures, with perfectly distinguishable voices. Enrico Baiano's interpretations in his monographic program dedicated to Pietro Domenico Paradisi would have been a bit of peace: touches of memory and with a display of technique, his versions always tended to haste and a certain mechanicism. Cristiano Gaudio was an impersonal interpreter of the six Sonatas of Francesco During, more expressive in slow movements than in rapids, sometimes weighed down by some confusion. Louise Acabo was, instead, the best surprise of the week and the last pearl of the inexhaustible French quarry of great harpsichordists. The composer that was awarded to him, the great Ascanio Mayone, adapts very well to his way of playing and to his taste for highlighting the sudden and shocking dissonances that constitute one of the hallmarks of Neapolitan music of the time. Very young, and with ample scope to continue maturing, Acabo points to an interpreter of enormous international projection. Very little interest had, on the contrary, the Alessandro Scarlatti of Bart Naessens, of agile fingers but little imaginative, and the Giovanni Salvatore of the Portuguese Fernando Miguel Jalôto, too flat and irrelevant. Two young Italian interpreters have brilliantly closed the week: Giovanni Paganelli, interpreter of the best versions of Alessandro Scarlatti heard these days and architect of bright and fresh executions of nine of the Essercizi of Domenico, with high school ornamentations in the repetitions of each section; and Andrea Buccarella, very solid and musical, an interpreter already very well done that in his mixed program (Greco, Durante and Fago) was claimed as the current great promise of the Italian harpsichord school.
Naples was also the absolute protagonist at midnight on Saturday with the cinematographic projection of several silent films or documentaries (less than a minute of lava flowing after an explosion of Vesuvius, a popular festival in its streets, a tour of its emblematic buildings or two fiction short films, The last days of Pompeii Y A conspiracy against Murat) that were very well illustrated live on the organ by Martin de Ruiter. And, although it has missed the opportunity to abound more in what, in a classic study, Allan Atlas called The music in the Aragonese court of Naples, the festival has served at least to resume contact with the Instituto Cervantes de Utrecht (the only one in Holland), where several conferences and concert presentations have been held. It is a pity that the occasion has not been used to resume what was a tradition of the festival for many years, the celebration in the very central building of the Domplein which was named in its day as Cervantes Conference, and that could have told this year with the presence of musicologist José María Domínguez as the current top expert in musical relations between Spain and Naples during the Baroque, which has also been the most and best historical era explored by programming.
Finally, the closing concert of Vox Luminis was not, in fact, such. On Sunday night, Mitzi Meyerson offered a “postlude,” a key recital titled for a few dozen fireproof listeners. Vedi Napoli … e poi muori. It was a program entirely starring French funeral compositions (by Louis and François Couperin, and Jean-Henry D'Anglebert) and by the most Frenchman of the 17th-century German composers for key, Johann Jakob Froberger, whom he played, among other works , one that is extraordinary since its title: Meditation faite sur ma mort future. Meyerson is a great lady of the key and confirmed it with fluid and mournful versions, without loading the inks in a single moment. The laments (is there more beautiful music than the Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher Louis Couperin?) sounded, connected with Naples, to a celebration of life, along the lines of Requiem by Mozart by Romeo Castellucci which premiered last July in Aix-en-Provence. What is certain is that, after yesterday's farewell, the Utrecht Ancient Music Festival will return next year, and its theme, this time without ties from countries, cities or styles, has already been announced: Ars rhetorica.
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