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.