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Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 6

img  Tobias

I'm off to St. John's for the last time. Tomorrow, the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music will close with a festive and grand-scale event at Westminste Abbey, but tonight, the Festival still resides in its sympathetic home. Something I notice again tonight is how the staff at this church follows and applaudes the music like a regular member of the audience – a rare and heartwarming sign of true enthusiasm, which also explains their completely real and uncontrived friendliness. As I enter the basement to pick up my tickets, I am handed them before I even mention my name – no mean achievement considering the visitor numbers to these concerts.

Sometimes, you can predict which way a performance will go from the eyes of the musicians. When the Concerto Soave enter the stage, they are all concentration, a Sextet of stern-looking instrumentalists about to deliver something serious and serene. Maria Christina Kiehr, especially, oozes a kind of radiating noblesse, which suggests that you are free to enjoy yourself tonight but also ought to also keep your distance.

Part of this, of course, is down to the theme of their program for the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, which, as harpsichordist Jean-Marc Aymes points out at the very end, revolves around the issue of mortality, also dabbing its feet in redemption, eternal love and what expects us after death. Despite its compact group size, the Concerto is spread out over the entire podium, with each member lingering in a space of his or her own, free to follow their private thoughts. This spatial expansion adds to the pensive character of these pieces – especially Archlutist Matthias Spaeter is placed exposed at the far right corner of the stage, almost as if waiting for a solo which will never come.

The concert harks back to the 16th and 17th century, a time when the Catholic Church discovered music as a marketing tool to win back some ground conceded to the Protestants. In order to appeal to the hearts, souls and minds of potential believers, they commissioned works from some of the most renowned and popular composers of the time. While quite a few of them have (sadly) been lost from general memory, a name like Claudio Monteverdi's still rings a bell with most music fans today (his „Confitebor tibi, Domine“ will sound out the evening). All of them, however, regardless of how kind or hard history has been on them, have seized this opportunity to manifest their faith and display their talents with some instantly appealing and yet intricately arranged pieces.

As the opening „O dilectissime Jesu“ by Giovanni Legrenzi proves, building songs from various compositional blocks, including drastic tempo changes and mood swings as well as demanding daunting vocal style variations from a singer was definitely commonplace – as were direct and heartwarmingly simple tunes of concise format and length. Recitative and ariatic passages are placed side by side, flowing seamlessly in- and out of each other, with the emphasis occasionally even shifting to the former's advantage.

The Concerto Soave handle these pieces with great care, respect and the restraint dictated by the gravitas of their sujets, yet with enough passion and enthusiasm to turn them into works of existential importance. The two instrumental contributions by Domenico Mazzochi („Passagio del Mar Rosso“)  and Biagio Marini's „Passacaglia“ are their obvious moments of glory, when the evocative violins of Stephanie Pfister and Marie Rouquie dive headlong into the waters of intertwined ornamentations, unleashing waves of hypnotically interlocking melodies. But even when Kiehr takes her place in the centre of the formation, her ensemble is always much more than a mere backing band.

If the experienced Soprano does steal the show tonight, it is not because she presents herself as a diva, but because of the remarkable dose of fragility and frailty she adds to her performance. It is almost, as if she were close to collapsing under the weight of the questions she is being asked and the answers she is suggesting. Sometimes, her voice seems to break or to be swallowed by the sound of the Concerto Soave, but then she rises from her pain, thrusting herself up for a decided finale.

Just as with the other musicians of today's concert, modesty and self-asuredness are forming an unusual but convincing unity. It is as if the group were surprised at the public's positive reaction, but fully aware of the moving quality of the music they have just played. And as they are taking their bows, smiles on their faces reveal that no matter how stern this concert might have been, it has also been a lot of fun.

Next morning, I say goodbye to my hosts and take the Piccadily Line straight to Heathrow. A week of great music has come to an end – but the Festival closes with the prospect of a very special return next year, as it goes into its 25th year. Thanks go out to Lufthansa, Albion Media, Lindsay Kemp and the organisors as well as everyone at St. John's Smith Square.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music

Article in serie

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1 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008
A rare case of dedication: ...
2008-05-22
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2 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 6
London, May 20th: Concerto Soave ...
2008-05-22
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3 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 5
London, May 19th: Ensemble Pierre ...
2008-05-20
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4 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 4
London, May 18th: The Wallfish ...
2008-05-19
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5 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 3
London, May 17th: Concordia & ...
2008-05-18
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6 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 2
London, May 16th: Philippe Herreweghe ...
2008-05-17
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7 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2008: Day 1
London, May 15th: English Concert, ...
2008-05-16

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