More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
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The programme for the evening was entitled La Bretagna all’Italiana, and La Serenissima (@LaSerenissimaUK) was led (and introduced), as ever, by violinist Adrian Chandler (@AdeSerenissima), with Mhairi Lawson (soprano), Gareth Deats (cello), Robert Howarth (harpsichord), and Eligio Quinteiro (theorbo) – the ensemble’s full complement of players, on which Adrian calls for Vivaldi concerti and the like, is given on the beautifully presented web-site, at http://laserenissima.co.uk/about/*
For the purposes of this review (NB This gushing overdue posting is just for the first half), Adrian Chandler is styled ‘Adrian’, because one simply must do so after having been to The Eagle on a couple of occasions with Gareth (and Robert ?) and him…
The first of which was after those three, as a trio, gave their Pisendel recital during one Cambridge Summer Music Festival, material founded in the original ‘Per Monsieur Pisendel’ album (which now has a tempting-looking sequel – Santa, please note !) : an intriguing story, fascinatingly told by Adrian between the pieces (and in the CD booklet), of the expert violinist who turned composer with the help of Antonio Vivaldi, one Johann Georg Pisendel, who rightly deserves – as La Serenissima believes – to be better known.
At Trinity, @LaSerenissimaUK was in reduced format, but nothing else was smaller : musicality, energy, freshness, plus MhairiLawson's voice
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) October 13, 2014
On that occasion, La Serenissima was not, as it has sometimes done, giving an all-Vivaldi performance (though he is ever present), and that was a link with this recent Cambridge recital – along with Adrian’s continuing search for rarities, star works by other composer / violinists (Pisendel being but one) that we may not otherwise (tend to) hear.
1. Due Canzoni da Battello ~ Anon. (c. 1730)
2. Sonata Scozzese ~ Francesco Maria Veracini (1690–1768)
3. A Scots Cantata ~ William Boyce (1711–1779)
4. Sonata II in D Major (‘Manchester’), RV. 12 ~ Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Mhairi Lawson began by singing two (1) Canzoni da Battello – and two further ones began the Closing half (write-up in progress), all thought to date to around 1730. At this time (and from the late seventh century until 1797), Venice was still a Republic : Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia – or just La Serenissima, from where the band takes its name**.
In the solo violin introduction to Si la gondola avere, Adrian brought out a sweetness of tone, which heralded richness in Mhairi’s voice, itself a contrast to the robust, yet delicate theorbo, before a close with violin again. In the second piece, Cara Nina el bon to sesto, Mhairi gave us more lightness, and the overall impression, with theorbo accompaniment, was less formal than in the opening song.
Neither of these Canzoni is attributed (please see next paragraph), and they typically have texts in Venetian dialect (as Adrian tells us in his programme-notes). Since he is necessarily mentally and historically rooted in Venice, Adrian provided much detail in the programme, but one also wanted to heed these short numbers – and their lyrics, fleeting as the may-fly, for there was little or none of the ruminative word-setting that we know from Handel or Bach. (And one knew that one could read over his notes later, in serene tranquillity !)
Afterwards, Adrian told us that these pieces survive, both in collections in manuscript form (in libraries, music colleges, etc.), and because they made their way into three volumes published, in London, by John Walsh (in the 1740s). (The notes tell us that there are occasional, usually sole, compositions that give Hasse, Pergolesi or Lampugani as their author.)
Adrian introduced the (2) Sonata Scozzese by outlining how Veracini migrated to London from Florence in the 1730s, and, through playing in the Entr’acte of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, came to write this piece, with its Scotch snaps, and its variations on Tweeside.
Scored for the quartet of instrumentalists, the sonata is led by the violin (rather than its having a solo part), and opens with what sounds like Scottish intonation, before becoming more Italianate – quite an extended movement, reminiscent of the dance.
Formally, there is an Adagio between the Allegro moderatamente and the final Scozzese, but it appeared to be run together with the latter, and was – not least in comparison with the Allegro – fairly brief. The Scozzese is marked Un poco andante e affettuoso – Largo – Un poco andante e affettuoso :
Before the Scots tune was stated, the movement was characterized by deft down-strokes in, and hesitancy about, the violin-writing, and it then developed with the feel of ‘The Pipes’, and with the bow skating on Adrian’s strings. In the Largo section, a little akin to that in Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 4 in F Minor***, Op. 8 (RV 297, ‘Inverno’ (‘Winter’)), there was an inward, reflective mood given by the solo violin, before we moved back to the opening theme proper at the work’s close.
In and through hearing these pieces, and seeing – if quick enough – Adrian’s agile finger- and bow-work, we witnessed how a variety of techniques and effects for violin are part of this repertoire. As, in different ways, no doubt Béla Bartók places demands on his soloist in, say, his Violin Concerto No. 2 (BB 117) – or Johann Sebastian Bach in his Partita No. 3 in C Major (whose works in this set of Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, BWV 1001–1006, partly inspired Bartók’s own Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz. 117, BB 124). However, of course, delving around in and then interpreting eighteenth-century (or earlier ?) treatises on string-playing is all part of the groundwork for what we hear in performance…
Mhairi stepped up again from sitting at the side of the chapel for Boyce’s (3) A Scots Cantata – maybe, when Tom Stoppard was giving us Vienna in a craze for things Scots in his adaptation On the Razzle, that seemed a little unlikely (albeit a century later, in 1842). However, it is clear from what is in this programme that something Caledonian was afoot in London in the first half of the eighteenth century****, which the local and (as Adrian puts it) ‘imported’ composers strove to serve.
Having duly referenced the recent vote ‘north of the border’, Adrian observed that the form is essentially recitative / aria – twice. Although being Scottish may have made Mhairi’s construing her text easier, it was the least of her qualifications to perform this piece when singers’ meat and drink is conveying meaning through a tongue that is likely to be unfamiliar to much of the audience – and many may relish settings of, for example (for this is not), Burns without being able to understand every nuance.
Even so, these central words (set in the second section of recitative), probably deliberately, pose no problem to following what is happening :
These tender notes did a’ her pity move, with melting heart she listened to the boy;
o’ercome she smil’d and promis’d him her love; he in return thus sang his rising joy.
Jeanny’s reaction, then, is the pivotal moment, the impetus for Jonny’s vigorous rejoicing in the second aria, where the scoring for voice dwelt on the phrase ‘dear enchanting bliss’ as the undulating accompaniment held the tune.
Regarding why the work that closed the first half, Vivaldi’s (4) Sonata for Violin and Continuo, RV 12, is numbered amongst what are called The ‘Manchester’ Sonatas, Adrian was quick to say that Vivaldi never came to England, but that the third largest collection in the world has ended up in that city, in the Henry Watson Library (for reasons that his notes and he went into…).
It opened tenderly, with a Preludio – Largo, but became spiky and quasi-military, before seeming to resemble the counter-tenor aria ‘Erbarme dich’ from Bach’s St Matthew Passion***** (BWV 244). Next, the Corrente – Allegro, full of energy from the off, with accents and a rising scale. Later, a falling figure and highly fluid solo writing in this movement left one feeling full of excitable emotion.
The following Giga – Allgero repeated and developed its initial phrase, progressing a bit as an eight-bar blues might. Yet what was most noticeable, other than Vivaldi’s typical employment of a driving violin style, was his use of ornament and emphasis. Throughout the movement, Gareth and Adrian were in visual interplay to give and receive cues, a noticeable feature of the close ensemble of La Serenissima (as well as seeing pleasure shared on Gareth’s face in reaction to some turn, or phrasing).
To close, the Gavotta – Presto was firmly in il prete rosso’s rhythmic style, and seemed to revisit the theme from the first movement. Not beyond being crafty with our expectations, and after laying a false trail as to where he was going, Vivaldi used the note that he had set up to springboard a coda in conclusion of the piece.
Audience reception and interval
Music this good (score and playing) is infectious ! One need not just have judged the effect of this performance by the applause, for the CD stall – with Adrian taking almost no break before signing – was very busy, and with an impressive range of titles (at least one per year since the group started).
Adrian was heard to say about a very good relationship with Avie Records, and that, in almost all cases, La Serenissima itself owns rights to the recordings, and can thus keep them in circulation (i.e. it could prevent titles being deleted).
Some time soonish, a companion posting will attempt to complete a write-up of the second half without being so novelistic...
* Through elision, a URL that looks for all the world, on a quick glance, as though it is for some dubious suppository that involves lasers ?!
** Unless one has been there, it is hard to describe how glorious it is.
*** From, of course, a set of twelve concerti in all, Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention), Op. 8 – of which, Concerto No. 7 in D Minor, RV 242, is known as Per Pisendel.
**** From the Internet, it seems that Boyce was not alone in setting this material, for we have one Signior Lorenzo Bocchi’s composition, ‘The Tune after an Italian Manner’.
***** Asked in the interval, Adrian could not place Ebarme dich (which one dared not try to hum / whistle), but said that it must be coincidence, on the basis that he understands that Bach did not know the Vivaldi piece.
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)