Concert Review: L'Arpeggiata

L'Arpeggiata fused the past and present with intelligence, sensitivity, urbane sophistication and unmistakable wit, to ...
Michael Uneffer

L'Arpeggiata fused the past and present with intelligence, sensitivity, urbane sophistication and unmistakable wit, to create a rewarding musical experience.

Music for a While – Improvisations on Henry Purcell
L'Arpeggiata
Directed by Christina Pluhar
Charles Luney Auditorium,  March 20

Judging by the startled expressions appearing on some faces in the Christchurch audience, the music performed by the European ensemble L'Arpeggiata was an unexpected culture shock.

But after 85 minutes, even the most discombobulated were hopefully seduced by this group of  11 musicians, under the direction of Christina Pluhar. Brought here by Chamber Music New Zealand (which deserves a round of applause), the group discards the literalism and claustrophobic reverence which once surrounded early music, moving it into new cultural territory. The result is something truly potent and absorbing. 

Early music – here the music of Henry Purcell – laid the foundations for L'Arpeggiata's sophisticated collage of Baroque and contemporary jazz. I think that Purcell, a man with an eye for variation and innovation, might approve of its beguiling approach. 

READ MORE: 'Early music superstars' L'Arpeggiata in New Zealand for concerts

In the wrong hands, jazzed-up Purcell (plus a bow to the 17th century Italians, Cazzati and Matteis) would possibly become a passing novelty. Pluhar's group instead fused the past and present with intelligence, sensitivity, urbane sophistication and unmistakable wit, to create a rewarding musical experience.

The music which emerged from Francesco Turrisi's rapturous piano improvisations, Gianluigi Trovesi's virtuosic clarinet playing and Sergey Saprychev's percussion wizardry was mesmerising. Boris Schmidt, meanwhile, didn't simply play the double bass. He periodically appeared to make love to it.

Joined by Pluhar, Doron Sherwin, Haru Kitamika, Veronika Skuplik and Eero Palviainen on Baroque instruments, the complete ensemble wove pure magic. The centuries which separate Baroque and modern jazz were bridged by L'Arpeggiata's collegial respect, not only for Purcell's music, but for each other's musical styles. There was nothing contrived in this concert – simply a deep and obvious joy in creating a sense of musical drama.

Soprano Celine Scheen and alto Vincenzo Capezzuto enhanced the theatre. Scheen's beautifully flexible voice reflected an urgent power and poignancy, while Capezzuto displayed Italian panache, a reflection perhaps of his background as a professional dancer. Once again, it was the ideal partnership.

As an encore, L'Arpeggiata played and sang Pokarekare Ana in perfect harmony with a satisfied audience. The surprise gift provided the perfect end to a perfect evening.

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