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Concert Report/ Labyrinto & Celine Scheen

img  Tobias
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Night has fallen over St. John's church, the semicircle of its huge window hanging over the podium like a black moon. Somewhere in the distance, a bell is sounding ghoulishly. Four persons are sitting in a corona of bright light amidst a cave of darkness, tuning their strings with utmost care, almost like caressing a child. A short silence ensues. Then one of them starts to play. Gently, passionately, he builds his solo into a wave that gushes into the audience, moving his body forth and back, rocking his instrument and shaking it as if to squeeze every drop of sound from it. Suddenly, he abruptly halts, shouting “The Spirit of Gambo!”. As if moved by an invisible hand, his companions follow suite, throwing themselves into the piece, complementing that solitary line like indivisible siblings, feeling each chord and urging themselves on.

A performance by Paolo Pandolfo and his trio Labyrinto is not just a concert. With its haunting intensity, its daunting choice of repertoire, its wordless communication and silent exchanges, it rather resembles a spiritual séance. There are no explanations, there are no lengthy introductions, there are  - with only a few exceptions – no breaks between pieces. Pandolfo is not one of those who believes that making things easy for his public and spelling everything out can be a fertile ground for the arts. Firstly, there must be an experience, pure and untainted, mysterious and dramatic, otherworldly and absolute. Whatever critics must write or listeners feel they need to say can follow later.

That he is now performing in London is no coincidence. As a touring solo musician and a traveling member of various constellations, ranging from the old to the new and from strict forms to the improvised, he has not only become a geographical globetrotter, but also a journeyman of the ages and genres, whose presence at the Lufthansa Festival feels completely natural. And then, of course, there is the influence of Festival director Lindsey Kemp, whose untiring efforts of awarding Pandolfo's work the laurels it deserves as an editor of Gramophone magazine have established  a personal and artistic relationship, which is coming to full fruition tonight.

The program focuses almost exclusively on the works of Tobias Hume and John Dowland. The former a soldier and amateur composer who fully embraced the progressive power of the Viola da Gamba, the latter belatedly considered among the most important writers of his time and a fervent opponent of the instrument. Labyrinto have nonetheless adapted his pieces, originally scored for the more traditional Lute, to the Gamba, if only to prove that the music is well capable of adapting to these new circumstances and that Dowland's criticism was quite probably inspired more by personal anger than profound arguments.

Just like in the performance of Elizabeth Wallfisch and her band from yesterday, it is both the interpretations and the repertoire-selection that makes the difference here. Some of the instrumental works have a lucid lyrical quality to them, singing in a voice from long ago but with the freshness of the now. Pandolfo's estimation that this music “can be a powerful inspiration for the future of the western musical tradition” turns from rhetoric into a prophecy through the interaction with his friends. He tempts Guido Balesteracci with his teasingly plucked motives, or enters a game of musical ping pong with him, when their bows lash from left to right with only a short delay, always ending with robust bass strokes.

For the vocal pieces, meanwhile, the trio has brought along Celine Scheen, whose elegant, extremely longsleeved black robe makes her look like a elf from “Lord of the Rings”, but whose bubbly stage personality, smiling incessantly and exchanging looks with the other musicians, turns her into the earth-force in the line-up. Her voice accordingly eschews angelic territory and merges with the melodies of the Labyrintos, into a quartet of deep sighs and heartfelt laments. Whether she voices desire and doubt (Dowland's “Shall I strive with words to move”) or doubtless desire (Caccini's “Amarilli, mia bella”), she never does so egoistically, but in close consultation with the group.

This is a concentrated affair and, for the audience, an affair of concentration. But it's for a greater good. Only from seriousness, after all, can true pleasure arise. If all musicians seem perfectly relaxed at the end, it is because they know they have just achieved something special. It is cold outside and in the distance, the clock is again striking ominously. But our hearts are warm and the moon is shining brightly, guiding us safely home.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music
Homepage: Paolo Pandolfo & Labyrinto

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