International Young Artists Presentation
Laus Polyphoniae 2022
AMUZ, Amtwerp. 20 August 2022
The International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) is an annual coaching and presentation scheme promoted by Musica and AMUZ (Flanders Festival Antwerp). It is intended for young ensembles playing historical instruments. They are invited to present innovative and original programmes and to experiment with aspects of presentation and performance. The selected groups are given three days of coaching (on this occasion, led this year by Raquel Andueza and Robert Hollingworth, which is followed by a day of public concerts at the start of the Laus Polyphoniae festival, reviewed here.
The first of the six groups to perform was BREZZA (Pablo Gigosos, flute, Marina Cabello del Castillo, viola da gamba & Teun Braken, harpsichord). They were founded, like so many early music groups, at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Their programme “The art of preluding: free will or destiny” saw how the prelude developed from an early improvised tuning device to become one of the most advanced compositional genres of the Baroque era, based on freedom of tempo that encouraged fantasy and imagination, mood change, passion and emotion. They played music by Benda, Leclair, Quantz, Couperin, Abel, Morel and Rameau in a professional and well-choreographed presentation that made use of different groupings and shapes. I particularly liked the way the flute player sat down for a couple of the pieces, reflecting the equality of all three performers. But I also found the habit of the gamba player of gazing heavenward, rather than at the audience, a little distracting. They opened with what I assume was an improvised prelude on flute, and the other two instruments also offered improvised links between some of the pieces.
PassiSparsi (Martha Rook, soprano, Cora Mariani, mezzo-soprano, Neri Landi, tenor, Lorenzo Tosi, bass) was founded in 2019 at the Conservatoire L. Cherubini in Florence, to explore the polyphonic repertoire of madrigals, chansons and villanelle of the Renaissance and early Baroque. Their programme, Cantar per scherzo, was dedicated to music from Orlando di Lasso’s 1581 Libro di villanelle, moresche et altre canzoni, represented the lighter aspect of Lasso’s music through some of his ironic and satirical secular songs, reflecting folk characters and grotesque and hilarious aspects of 16th-century society. They started singing from the back of the deep stage, building an instant rapport with the audience, helped by their singing from memory. They acted out some of the songs, including the drunken German mercenary in Matona mia cara, demonstrating a natural sense of humour that was never overdone. I wasn’t convinced that they need the help of a tuning fork in between each piece – their tuning was impressive and it was a bit distracting.
The Spanish ensemble Anacronía (David Gutiérrez, flute, Pablo Albarracin Abellán, violin, Luis Manuel Vicente Beltrán, viola, Marc de la Linde Bonal, viola da gamba, Marina López Manzanera, harpsichord) presented their programme A Baroque Haydn?. It was based on the London concerts organized by Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel from 1764 onwards. They included three of the composers whose works featured in those concerts, starting with Carl Friedrich Abel himself and his Flute quartet in D. The little-known Spanish composer Juan Oliver y Astorga followed with his Trio for 2 violins and bass before Haydn’s Flute quartet in G major (Hob.II:G4). Their very relaxed clothing was a refreshing alternative to the more usual concert wear and, along with their very expressive and rhetorical playing (all from memory), helped to build an excellent interaction with the audience. I liked their positioning of the harpsichord end-on, which made the player more a part of the group than the more usual side-on at the back position, although it did make the instrument quieter than usual without the help of a reflective raised lid. They also managed to find a healthy dose of humour in the music, particularly in the Haydn.
The Giesta recorder duo (Joana Guiné & Irene Sorozábal Moreno) added lutenist and singer David Mackor to their line-up for their programme El camino se hace cantando. It featured sacred and secular music relating to the various pilgrimages that took place in the Iberian Peninsula, including pieces from the Codex Calixtinus (c1140) up to the early 16th century. They started from the back of the hall, moving (in bare feet) to the front producing wonderfully exotic sounds from their recorders, including humming into the instruments. They made very effective use of simple percussion and their evocative soundscapes helped to bring the music to life. That rather theatrical approach to their music continued throughout, notably in a couple of pieces where there was more spoken word than sung text. One concerned the curious tale of a woman who was keen for a baby which, courtesy of the Devil, then arrived, albeit with the death of the woman and her husband. The Virgin Mary interceded to save the baby, but only on the condition that it spends the rest of its life praising the Virgin. She allowed the baby’s birth scar to remain to remind others to do the same.
A complete contrast followed as we moved from the earliest music of the day to the latest, with a performance of Schumann’s String quartet (Op.41/3) given by the Parnassus Quartet (Xenia Gogu Mensenin & Sophia Prodanova, violins, Oscar Holch, viola, Victor Garcia Garcia, cello). This was the last of three string quartets Schumann composed during the summer of 1842 as a tribute to his wife Clara. They reflect the obvious sense of nostalgia and profound love that he felt. In the spoken introduction, the piece was described as ‘almost symphonic’ with its use of double-stopping and other techniques that thickened the texture. The intense emotion of the piece was reflected in this incredibly powerful and expressive performance. At times, the violin playing was so delicate that the strings didn’t have a chance to speak properly. To my early-music ears, the use of pronounced violin portamenti took a bit of getting used to, but the very restrained use of finger vibrato was a relief and their use of rhetoric in their timing was impressive. I wonder what the 12th-century pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela would have thought of it!
The final IYAP concert came from another duo, Flutes & Frets Duo (Beth Stone, flutes & Danny Murphy, lute, theorbo and guitar) with their programme of Baroque music for flutes & frets. This mellow presentation was something of a relief after the power and intensity of the previous concert, and it made for a relaxing end to the IYAP series. They played music by Eccles, Telemann, Michael Praetorius, Marais and a medley of 17th-century folk melodies. The little suite of Praetorius dances featured a narrow Renaissance flute. The Telemann Sonata was in his typical user-friendly style, while the couplets from the Marais Les folies d’Espagne showed the versatility of the two instruments, with the lute subjected to Spanish guitar-like strumming at one point. Their encore was a wonderful way to finish a long day of concerts. It was recognised by most of the audience after just two chords – the 1965 Lennon &McCartney classic, Yesterday.
Photos by ABW are of the AMUZ concert hall, the former church of St. Augustine.