Archives: Reviews

The Italian Job (Concert Review: St George’s Bristol)

Tell anyone you’re attending an evening entitled The Italian Job and you might expect an impish, mildly predictable reference in a mock-Cockney accent about ‘blowing the bloody doors off’. This Italian Job, however, was of a completely different kind, being as it was a concert of music written by Italian composers of the Baroque era – all performed exquisitely by La Serenissima at St George’s in Bristol on Wednesday 23 November 2016.

It’s pretty damned hard to go wrong with a sparklingly impressive line-up of legendary composing virtuosos, and the evening consisted of first-rate interpretations of music by the period’s titanic, formidable masters. Vivaldi – check. Tartini – check. Torelli – check. Caldara – check – Albinoni – check. Corelli – check. A pure and simple case of exemplary Baroque ‘n roll. And La Serenissima nailed absolutely every single piece – and, for that matter, every single note – they played.

During the period, Italy was well known and held in great esteem for its consummate string playing. The concert took that as its springboard but extended those string-based compositional inflections and nuances to include pieces that utilized winds and brass, which music of the age very often did when written for and played during special religious feast days.

Under the watchful eye, precise cues and graceful nods of violinist/director Adrian Chandler – whose playing was as stunningly fastidious as it was shimmeringly iridescent – the rest of the ensemble reacted to his masterful guidance with a slew of incredible performances. Sinfonias and concertos penned by 17th and 18th century Italian icons were brought dazzlingly to life.

Familiar pieces were given a fresh, gleaming sheen; works you thought you knew were performed with such technical bravura and instrumental acuity, it was as if you were hearing them for the first time – which, with Caldara’s sinfonia, may well have been the case, as that’s believed not to have been performed in recent times.

From melancholy adagios to sprightly dances to jaunty, giddy oscillations and arpeggios, every beat, every rhythm, every cadence, every ounce of feeling and emotion was rendered and exemplified with complete, irresistible passion, intensity, and an adroit appreciation and understanding of the towering masterworks. Stately, noble, regal, peppy, triumphant, sorrowful, elegiac, triumphant. For an hour and forty-five minutes, the ensemble continually excelled themselves.

Bristol Post, November 2017

‘Vivaldi in Venice’ (Audience testimonials)

‘Truly outstanding. La Serenissima’s devotion to their performances was amazing’

‘To hear The Four Seasons, performed in such a fresh and magical manner was a continuous joy and source of surprise’

‘La Serenissima we thought were outstanding. We were in the presence of greatness’

Martin Randall Travel, Vivaldi in Venice Festival, November 2017

‘The Italian Job’ (CD Review)

‘The English, historical-instrument, Baroque ensemble La Serenissima (the term was a nickname for the city of Venice) has specialized in somewhat scholarly recordings that nevertheless retain considerable general appeal, and the group does it again with this release. The program offers some lesser-known composers, and some lesser-known pieces by famous composers like the tiny and fascinating Concerto alla rustica for two oboes, bassoon, strings, and continuo, RV 151. What ties the program together formally is that it covers a range of Italian cities that were becoming cultural centers as they declined in political power: not only Venice (Vivaldi, Albinoni, Caldara), but also Padua (Tartini), Bologna (Torelli), and Rome (Corelli). There are several works by composers known only for one or two big hits, and these are especially rewarding. Sample the opening movement of Tartini’s Violin Concerto E major, DS 51, with its unusual phrase construction and daringly chromatic cadenza passage: it has the exotic quality for which Tartini became famous, but it does not rely on sheer virtuosity. That work is played by leader Adrian Chandler himself, but he also chooses pieces for a large variety of other solo instruments: the Italian Baroque was about more than the violin. Each work on the album has something to recommend it, and collectively the performances may make up the best album of 2017 whose booklet includes footnotes.’

James Manheim – All Music, June 2017

The Four Seasons (concert review)

‘Adrian Chandler’s ensemble revives a unique version of The Four Seasons and presents an avant-garde approach that would have awed Hendrix’

The Guardian, February 2016

Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (CD review)

‘La Serenissima’s fresh approach grows out of The Four Seasons itself. Listeners that usually find the ritornello that launches Autumn a touch twee will be diverted by the energising thrum of the guitar… If the sheer sweep and vivacity captivates, details are just as telling.  The appoggiatura Chandler applies to the end of his first solo entry in Winter plumbs the chill of the grave, and in the perky Largo he delivers an object lesson in how to decorate the music meaningfully.  Two concertos showcasing Peter Whelan’s playfully agile bassoon are paired with two rare concertos for a specially constructed three-string ‘violino in tromba marina’ lending a touch of raucous exoticism.’

BBC Music Magazine, Concerto Choice, Double 5 star review, Christmas Issue, 2015:

The Four Seasons (CD review)

‘Adrian Chandler and his period-instrument ensemble La Serenissima have become well-known through numerous recordings on Avie, and they celebrate their 21st anniversary with this release. There are quite extensive notes in the booklet and Chandler has created a new edition of The Four Seasons based on the only surviving manuscript of these works. While there is plenty of scholarly grounding to this interpretation it is the performance which brings the music to life, something which very much happens here. These concertos are played in period style, but aside from crisply rhythmic style and transparent sonorities there is much in Adrian Chandler’s solo playing alone which will make you want to hear this recording again and again. There is quite a good deal of folk-like style in the performance with little added ornaments, a free and rhapsodic narrative touch where possible, and a general spirit of well-prepared lawlessness that is quite refreshing. Ensemble and soloist find the beauty in the music but one has the impression that this is not their prime objective – nor is it the taking of the performance to pictorial extremes. Yes, the canvas is richly laden with seasonal atmosphere, sparkling weather and the usual animals and characters, but the essence of these performances is that they are massively entertaining on every level. The virtuoso wonders of the soloist are equalled and imitated by the ensemble, and the two sometimes seem locked in a life and death struggle, as in the final Presto of Summer. The sheer joy of musicianship on display here draws us in and keeps us fully engrossed.’

Musicweb International, November 2015:

La Serenissima

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La Serenissima is a Member of the Association of British Orchestras & a Founder Member of Opera UK.