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L’Arpeggiata [Photo by International Classical Artists]
13 Oct 2013

L’Arpeggiata: Mediterraneo

What do you get if you cross the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and add a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz?

L’Arpeggiata: Mediterraneo

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: L’Arpeggiata [Photo by International Classical Artists]


One might think that this sort of acoustic recipe would produce a dog’s dinner of a musical fusion. But, at the Wigmore Hall L’Arpeggiata showed us that such a brew can result not in a confusing concoction but rather in a new idiom — a dialogue of diverse musical modes which share, and are underpinned by, hypnotically revolving bass lines and effortlessly spun silky melodies, delivered with improvisatory genius.

Founded by director and theorbo player, Christina Pluhar, L’Arpeggiata is a flexible group combining early-music specialists with vocalists from the ‘olive frontier’. The textural complexity of theorbo, chitarra battente, baroque harp, cornetto and psaltery is complemented by the intriguing harmonic nuances of traditional southern songs. Presenting Mediterraneo, the title of the group’s most recent CD recording, L’Arpeggiata created a ceaseless sequence of melodious narrative, propelled by the romance and mystery of the Mediterranean waters which lap the shores of Puglia, and by the venomous bite of the tarantula spider whose toxic threat, it is believed, can be cured by the wild energy of the tarantella dance.

The foundation block upon which the musical amalgam stands firm is the supreme technical mastery of each of the performers, and at the core of the recital were the instrumental tarantellas and improvisations that melded the songs together. Bassist Boris Schmidt provided a rock solid footing upon which the others could build, but one loosened with rhythmic restlessness and spontaneous flourishes, the tone ever rich and full. Schmidt sashayed effortlessly from backdrop to foreground. Taking his turn in a strikingly inventive stream of instrumental obbligati in Maurizio Cazzati’s Ciaccona Op.22 No.14, Schmidt astonished with his agility and dexterity, while in ‘Tarantella napolitana, Tono hypodorico’ he indulged his jazz groove. The relaxed, curling melodies which emanated from Doron Sherwin’s wooden cornetto were equally and compellingly seductive; in Henry de Bailly’s ‘Yo soy la locura’ (I am madness), the springy syncopations of the bass provided the perfect platform for Sherwin’s delicious between-verse dialogue with the snaps and clacks of David Mayoral’s dancing castanets.

Mayoral’s astonishing percussion playing drew gasps in ‘Tarantella Maria di Nardó’, as he coaxed a magical array of tones and beats, sometimes simultaneously, from the simplest of musical means: a single drum skin emitted a panoply of strokes, taps and pitches. Composed by L’Arpeggiata’s guitarist Marcello Vitale, the piece also showcased his own prowess, as he imbued the intricate baroque guitar accompaniment with thrilling vitality and dynamism.

Margit Übellacker’s psaltery added a coloristic excitement to the instrumental texture, her hammers caressing and pummelling the strings with a wonderful blend of precision and passion, and providing a sweetly consoling postlude to the lullaby, ‘Ninna nanna sopra la Romanesca’. Harpist Sarah Ridy, whose obvious joy at the communal creativity was a delight to witness, softly painted the sorrowful ebb and flow of waves and tears, as the poet-narrator was overcome by loneliness and wistful longing.

Leading us through the tales, with their twists of mood and outbursts of emotion, were soprano Raquel Andueza, and Vincenzo Capezzuto, a ‘male soprano’. Capezzuto is not a classically trained countertenor; his voice has the easeful inflection of the pop balladeer complemented by the nuanced inflection of the singer-actor, and such qualities absolutely enchanted in songs such as ‘Agapimu fidela protini’ (My true love; traditional Greek-Salentino) and the Italian folksong ‘Silenziu d’amuri’ (Silence of love). The concluding lines of the latter — ‘swallows, fly to my beloved/ and sing for her in life and death./ These rustic parts are like the whole world. / You are the queen and I am the king of Spain.’ — possessed a quiet dignity and repose. The dark resonances of Pulhar’s resounding theorbo accompanied ‘Stu’ criatu’ (What’s created/Tarantella del Gargano), as the singer took us to more sombre realms and deeper truths: ‘Children come from God/ and nothing that has been created/ should be destroyed.’ The rhythmic incisiveness of the vocal line in the traditional Greek-Salentino song, ‘Agapimu fidela protini’ (My true love) injected poignant feeling into the narrative: ‘When I waken, you are not there,/ and then I cry bitter tears.

No mean dancer himself, Capezzuto was drawn into the spider’s spins and springs in ‘Pizzica di San Vito’ (St. Vitus’s Dance/Tarantella), by dancer Anna Dego, whose flying leap into Capezzuto’s arms reinforced his own urgent wish that his lover should not forget him. Dego’s infectious energy and commitment brought great immediacy to some of the songs, no more so than in ‘Pizzicarella mia’ (My little scallyway) which found Capezzuto in more playful mode, his voice lightly caressing the text, the melody buoyant and blithe: ‘My little scallywag,/ the way you walk, la li la, the way you walk is dancing.’ The dancer’s ferocious, unpredictably physicality complemented the musical virtuosity in ‘La Carpinese’ (Tarantella), as her twists and leaps embodied the sultry warmth of the fire and sun which enflame the woman’s passion.

Capezzuto was joined by Andueza, their voices forming a harmonious blend in duets such as the traditional Greek-Salentino ‘Are mou rindineddha’ (Who knows, little swallows) which opened the performance, instantly establishing a mood of magic and mystery, inviting the audience to skim and soar with the elusive swallows. ‘Ninna nanna sopra la Romanesca’ possessed a gentle lyricism; ‘Oriamu Pisulina’ (My darling Pisulina) was fittingly reticent and restrained, expressing the timid innocence and mild irritation of the faithful lover who is teased and mocked by his thoughtless, indifferent beloved.

Andueza’s soprano guided the narrative lilt of the traditional Catalan song, ‘La dama d’Aragó’ (The lady of Aagon) with beautiful ease; and, the tender repetitions of the final lines of ‘De Santanyí vaig partir’ (I left Santanyí) expressed nostalgia and sorrow, enhanced by the theorbo’s unobtrusive but communicative support. Andueza voice may lack some of the diversity of colour of Capezzuto, but the higher register of ‘Son ruinato’ (I am ruined) brought a harder edge to her melodic lines, fitting for a protagonist whose is ‘ruined with passion’. This was rich characterisation: subsequently, the vocal line sank to burnished lower realms; the dejection of the text, ‘I am desperate/ I have been killed’, was enhanced by the sparse theorbo echoes.

Improvisation of immense inventiveness and immediacy underpinned all these numbers, which segued with scarcely a halt (in performing contexts other than the venerable Wigmore Hall, spontaneous applause and praise might have further smudged the ‘joins’). Particularly striking was ‘La Dia Spagnola’, a triple time chaconne which spanned an arresting range of moods from turbulence to serenity, elation to melancholy. In an evening of pure and joyful music making, L’Arpegiatta proved that when art meets folk meets jazz, the result is harmony: music connects not divides.

Claire Seymour

L'Arpeggiata perform twice more in the season at the Wigmore Hall: Friday 21st March 2014 — L’Amore Innamorato (Christina Pluhar director, theorbo; Nuria Rial soprano ), and Thursday 10th July 2014 — Music for a While ( L’Arpeggiata; Christina Pluhar director, theorbo; Philippe Jaroussky countertenor )

Performers and programme:

L’Arpeggiata: Christina Pluhar - director, theorbo; Raquel Andueza — soprano; Vincenzo Capezzuto —male soprano; Anna Dego — dancer; Doron Sherwin — cornetto; Margit Übellacker — psaltery; Sarah Ridy — baroque harp; Marcello Vitale — baroque guitar, chitarra battente; David Mayoral — percussion; Boris Schmidt — double bass.

Traditional (Greek-Salentino), Are mou Rindineddha; Anon. (17th century), Tres Sirenas;Cazzati, Ciaccona; Traditional (Italy), Stu' criatu (Tarantella del Gargano); Kircher, Tarantella napolitana, Tono hypodorico; Traditional (Italy), Pizzicarella mia (Pizzica); Le Bailly, Yo soy la locura; Improvisation, La Dia Spagnola; Traditional (Italy), La Carpinese (Tarantella del Carpino);Improvisation, Canario; Vitale, Tarantella Maria di Nardò;Traditional (Italy), Ninna, nanna sopra la Romanesca; Traditional (Catalan), De Santayi vaig partir;Traditional (Greek-Salentino), Agapimu fidela protini; Ferrari, Son ruinato, appassionato;Traditional (Greek-Salentino), Oriamu Pisulina; Traditional (Catalan), La Dama d'Arago;Traditional (Italy), Pizzica di San Vito (Tarantella);Pisador, Los delfines; Improvisation, Sfessania; Traditional (Italy), Silenziu d'amuri; Traditional (Italy), Lu Passariellu (Tarantella Pugliese)

Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 10th October 2013.

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