James Montgomery writes:
What’s in a name, in this case La Serenissima? To begin with, Venice, because that’s how the beautiful city was described when the music we enjoyed in St Peter’s Church in Stockbridge was composed. How rare and pleasurable it is to hear a concert devoted entirely to the baroque music of Venetian composers, all written at around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries.
A highlight was listening to the first performances of works in more than two hundred years. La Serenissima’s leader, the violinist Adrian Chandler, goes digging. He tours Europe digging in libraries for as yet undiscovered manuscripts and contemporary printed sources of Italian baroque music. In an evening entitled ‘Great Sonatas of Venice’ we were treated to some fruits of his success so far.
At full strength La Serenissima numbers up to twenty expert players. However the music we enjoyed was written either for three or four instrumentalists. So we heard two violins, a cello and a harpsichord. Not much you might think, but the baroque sounds filled the church.
Antonio Caldara is best known for his choral works, for example the glorious oratorio ‘Maddalena ai piedi di Christo’. But Chandler has unearthed two Caldara sonatas that he played with cellist Gareth Deats and Robert Howarth on harpsichord. These were eye-openers. In the allegros Chandler’s fingers darted up and down his violin’s frets at breakneck speed, even in one written in F minor, a key not suited to a baroque violin. Deats excelled here too. The largos were beautifully expressed.
The violinist Camilla Scarlett played with the group for the evening’s other works, including a clever and delightful Chiacona by Caldara in which the cellist plays the same theme in various keys while the violins dance with ornamental melodies above. Two sonatas by Albinoni (best known for the Adagio he didn’t write – but that’s another story) added beauty, sadness and dexterity played with admirable skill.
And then to Vivaldi with two sonatas by the great man. No wonder his works for ensembles large or small endure the test of time. Into his largos, allegros and andantes, La Serenissima injected subtlety, colour and virtuosity. The cellist’s lightness of touch, the harpsichordist’s faultless foundation, and Vivaldi’s musical chats between the violins were a joy, with sadness, regret, anger, irritation expressed in equal measure. The adagio in the concert’s final Vivaldi piece is a slow march, justifiably memorable for the expert jagged, accentuated ensemble playing by this impressive group.
With its added subtle, infinitesimal, well-judged pauses in the music to emphasise phrasing, no wonder La Serenissima is now established as a leading exponent of Vivaldi’s music and that of his contemporaries. A fine start to this year’s series of ‘Stockbridge Music’ concerts.