Antwerp: International Young Artist’s Presentation

International Young Artist’s Presentation
Laus Polyphoniae 2019
Cultural Centre ‘De Kern’, Wilrijk
Antwerp, 18 August 2019

The International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) is an annual coaching and presentation scheme given in Antwerp for young ensembles playing historical instruments. Ensembles are invited to present innovative and original programmes and to experiment with aspects of presentation and performance. The groups selected for the annual scheme are given three days of coaching sessions (led by Peter Van Heyghen and Raquel Andueza) which are followed by two days of public concerts over the first weekend of the Laus Polyphoniae festival. Each group repeats their concert twice on each day to an audience who move from venue to venue. On the first day, various concert organisers from around Europe attend and give feedback to the ensembles. Following these concerts, further advice is offered to the ensembles about their future careers. they are given the title of “IYAP Selected Promising Ensemble 2019”. The scheme is an initiative of Musica: Impulse Centre for Music and the AMUZ Antwerp. The weekend public concerts take place in a variety of settings, this year focused on the district of Wilrijk and the Cultural Centre De Kern.

The first of the six ensembles that I heard was Pretérito Imperfecto from Spain, with their programme Bosques Umbrosos (Shady Forests) in the hall of the Bist Music School. The four instrumentalists (flute, violin, cello and harpsichord) opened with the Premiere Quatuor (Op 3) by the mysterious “Mr Bauer”, a four-movement piece he arranged from a Sonata by the Basque composer Fray José de Larrañaga. They played with a good sense of timing and pace, catching the darker harmonies of the Andante well. Alejandro Fernández Martinez’s harpsichord was very busy, with the flute and violin often just provided accompaniments. I also liked his continuo playing in the other two pieces, and his use of just a single note for tuning. They were then joined by soprano Montserrat Isanta Barcons for the piece that gave the programme its title, Bosques Umbrosos, a secular cantata by José de Torres )1670-1738), organist of the Capilla Real and Maestro de Capilla to Philip V in Madrid. They finished with an anonymous 17th-century Jácara about a “powerful and beautiful woman”: No hay que decirle el primor. Montserrat Isanta Barcons expressed the moods very well, vocally and through her hand gestures, making excellent contact with the audience and singing with a clear and unaffected voice that blended well with the instruments.

The four members of Ayame Ensemble Baroque met at the Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussels. Their name is Japanese for the Iris flower, the symbol of Brussels. Their programme Quentin × Telemann – Parfums parisiens contrasted Quartets by Jean-Baptiste Quentin (c1690-1750) and Telemann during the time of Louis XV., both reflecting the attractively light Rococo style. Quentin’s Quatuor (Op10/3) had a particularly sensuous Adagio and a lively concluding Allegro with little solo moments for all the instruments. Telemann’s Quatuor VI (TWV 43:e4) is one of the most attractive of his Paris Quartets, showing his mastery of composing for groups of instruments. The syncopated Distrait movement was particularly well played, and I liked the well-timed little pauses in the preceding Gracieusement. The four members of Ayame Ensemble Baroque played with considerable delicacy and sensitivity, with excellent balance between the flute and violin. The commendably unobtrusive continuo playing of harpsichordist Sayuri Nagoya was particularly effective. They communicated well with each other, and with the audience, and had a convincing grasp of French music of this period.

The a capella vocal group InVocare was formed during the Advanced Vocal Ensemble Studies programme at the Schola Cantorum Basel, and represents five continents. They presented their programme Fate and Fortune: Italian and English Madrigals in Wilrijk’s St Bavo church. They contrasted and compared the joint influences between English and Italian composers in the decades around 1600, with music from the likes of Dowland, de Rore, Gesualdo, Wilbye and de Wert. They adapted their singing style extremely well to the acoustics of the space, working with rather than against an acoustic which was not ideal for madrigals. Their use of silence was particularly effective, resulting in an impressively hushed audience. They regrouped between and, in the case of Monteverdi’s Piagn’e sospira, during the pieces, in the latter case stepping forward one by one as each voice entered. They made excellent eye contact with the audience and with each other, performing with no obvious direction other than their own glances and breaths. Their beautifully stable and clear voices blended superbly with each other, noticeably in some exquisitely tuned cadences. Tenor Daniel Thomson gave approachable spoken introductions to the pieces. For some reason, mezzo Tessa Roos was omitted from the printed programme, so gets a mention here.

Also formed in the Schola Cantorum Basel, where the three members are students, Trio Rosa Mundi explores the repertoire of self-accompanied song, with two singing lute-players and a flautist. Their programme was Die Sonne und der Mond (The Sun and the Moon) and took place in the New Council Chamber of Wilrijk town hall. The pieces were arrangements (‘intabulations’) of vocal polyphony from the years around 1600, the voices and flute taking some of the vocal lines and the lutes filling out the rest. Two of their pieces were arranged for voice and lute by an Antwerp resident, Emanuel Adriaenssen, who seems to have made a lot of money out of the enterprise. Two of his own little dances were also included. Other composers included lesser-known names such as Noé Faignient, Stefan Zirler, Caspar Othmayr, and Anthoine Boesset, alongside John Danyel and Alessandro Striggio. Soprano Emma-Lisa Roux seemed rather more comfortable singing without her lute, as in John Danyel’s Like as the Lute delights, where she was able to use her hands to express the song, which sounded lovely, as did her ornaments in the concluding Je voudrais bien ô Cloris by Anthoine Boesset. Darina Albogina’s playing on the Renaissance flute was a delight.

The concert by the Belgian-based trio Sweete Devils was in the form of a music drama, under the title of A Soldier’s life. Set in a tavern, with bottles of local brew and flagons of drink as evidence, it was based on the British soldier/musician Tobias Hume and included his own music together with that of Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Thomas Ravenscroft and arrangements of traditional tunes by John Playford. They opened with a Monty Pythonesque entry, complete with a coconut-clumping horse. After the introduction with Hume’s The Soldier’s Song, three following scenes portrayed the soldiers relaxing in the pub Before the Fight, The War, and After the Battle, when the soldiers relaxed with ale and Tobacco, the level of drink reflected in the manner of performance of the final piece, Playford’s Stingo, or the Oil of Barley. They repeated this, straight, as an encore. To the accompaniment of lutes, guitar and Hume’s instrument, the viola da gamba, high-tenor Korneel Van Neste told the story of Hume and one of his battles, the successful 1600 skirmish in Flanders of 1,500 British soldiers against a Spanish army of around 40,000. This was a very well planned and performed show, bringing serious music to life in an entertaining manner.

The final concert was given in the historic Wilrijk council chamber by the duo Vergissmeinnicht with their programme De l’esprit francais of music from early to mid-18th-century Paris by Hotteterre, Piccinini, de Visée, and Boismortier. The well-matched combination of flute and theorbo made for a beautifully intimate and sensitive sound world. Antje Becker and Barbora Hulcová reflected the French concept of Le bon goût with their graceful, elegant and sophisticated playing. Barbora Hulcová’s theorbo solo Partite variate sopra quest’ Aria francese detta l’Alemana by Alessandro Piccinini was attractively fluid, and her continuo theorbo playing in the other pieces was an excellent object lesson in continuo practice. Antje Becker’s flute playing was outstanding, with her subtle use of tonal inflexions and articulation, and intelligent use of notes inégales and stylishly French ornaments.

Photos: ABW