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Critic’s Notebook: Mars – Bringer of Early Italian Baroque

Also reviewed for DiePresse: Konzerthaus: Punktgenaue Marslandung

A rocking dose of early Italian Baroque from Concerto Scirocco

“Resonanzen“, the annual early music festival of Vienna‘s Konzerthaus, circled around to Mars only to land in a heap of early Italian baroque, courtesy of the engaged and dynamic, young baroque ensemble Concerto Scirocco. The instruments signaled “authenticity” from afar. The long neck of the theorbo has become a real tell, and is well known, by now. Not so much that conical recorder that looks like a truck drove over it and bent it. It’s a zink (or cornetto; not the ice-cream). The wooden contraption, thick as a young tree and looking conspicuously like a blunderbuss, turned out to be a Dulcian, a Renaissance predecessor of the bassoon. Add to that a chest organ in combination with a harpsichord, a violin, violone, two trombones, enough actual recorders to bring back up some unwanted childhood memories, and things were ready to get under way. Composers like Biagio Marini, Marco Uccellini, Andrea Falconieri, Antonio Ferro came and went. Rarities that only specialists might know but everyone (everyone likely to go to such a concert, anyway) can readily enjoy. Especially in such spirited performances. Despite the smallish ensemble of a maximum of eight performers, the Mozart Hall was humming with energy. With a song referencing “Mars” and two with “battaglia” in the name, there was sufficient reference made to the Planet in question. And the last encore was the same as the opening piece (Marini’s Canzon VIII à 6), things thus coming – very planet-like – full circle.

Even if, by then, a sense of sameness had taken hold, there were plenty of highlights along the way that turned out very memorable, indeed. The Corale à Violino solo, for example, of William Brade’s – one of the earliest (if, apparently, apocryphal) pieces for solo violin altogether. Violinist Alfia Bakieva played, as early music parlance would have it, the heck out of that work. The trombones (Susanna Defendi and Nathaniel Wood) were terribly impressive, for their faultless agility, and the continuous continuo presence of Givanni Bellini (theorbo) and Luca Bandini (violone) gave everything a most bracing underpinning. The zink (Pietro Modesti) was formidable in substituting for a trumpet, at times, and being a sensitive chamber music partner at others. The solo passages for the dulcian of Antonio Bertoli’s, the founder of Concerto Scirocco, as called for in Antonio Bertoli’s Sonata Settima Passacaglia, had a downright jazzy, improvisatory character. A crumpled old gentlemen next to me, by whose looks you might have thought was not safe in found on public land in Portland, turned to me after the first half had been closed with Samuel Scheidt’s Canzon Bergamasca and sighed, from the bottom of his heart: “How divinely beautiful!” A sentiment that pretty much applied to the whole evening.

Photos © Manuel Chemineau

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