La Dia Spagnola (improvisation)
Presso l’onde tranquille
Tarantella Napoletana (improvisation)
Ohimé ch’io cado
La suave melodia
L’incoronazione di Poppea – Adagiati Poppea … Oblivion soaveMelli
Jacaras [arr. Pluhar]
Sonata for Violin and Continuo Op.4/6 (La Vinciolina)
Sí dolce è ‘l tormento
Bergamasca and Canario (improvisation)
Fandango [arr. Pluhar]
Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius
Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor)
Christina Pluhar (Artistic Director & theorbo)
Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette
Reviewed: 29 October, 2010
Venue: Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City
L’Arpeggiata is a period instrument ensemble whose exploration of the Baroque repertoire and the intersection of art music with traditional and popular genres and improvisation has resulted in a unique sound that puts the emphasis on plucked and struck string instruments. Its founder and music director, Christina Pluhar, is an accomplished lutenist and harpist, and she does not hesitate to describe the ensemble’s concerts as “Baroque jam sessions”. Founded in 2000, the ensemble has toured widely and made a number of recordings for Alpha and Virgin; this was its Zankel Hall debut in a program drawn from their 2009 recording, “Teatro d’amore”.
The size of L’Arpeggiata varies, Here the instrumental ensemble consisted of seven instrumentalists: Christina Pluhar on theorbo and guitar, Eero Palviainen on archlute and guitar, and Haru Kitamika on harpsichord and positif make up the orchestral/continuo contingent. Percussionist David Mayoral utilized a variety of traditional drums (struck with the fingers, palms, large brushes, and occasionally a period pair of drumsticks) and other percussion. Psalterist Margit Übellacker alternated between filling out the instrumental texture and conjuring exuberant solo passages. Two instrumental soloists strutted some pretty amazing playing: violinist Veronika Skuplik has a bright sound but plenty of depth in the instrument’s lower range, and she does not hesitate to use vibrato judiciously. Cornettist Doron Sherwin has a stunning dynamic and pitch range, making the instrument sound something like a cross between a baroque trumpet and a soprano saxophone; his playing is solidly rhythmic and unabashedly soulful.
The program, which diverted somewhat from the printed sequence, contained a wide variety of composed and improvised instrumental selections; particularly impressive were Pluhar’s arrangements of Jácaras and fandangos by Spanish guitarist/composer Santiago de Murcia, an enormously important influence on baroque music little known outside of the guitar world. In the ensemble’s hands the sounds of Spanish indigenous music took on a surprising backbeat. Another surprise was Pandolfi Mealli’s Sonata ‘La Vinciolina’, with Margit Übellacker dispatching the fast passagework of this early single-movement sonata with impressive devil-may-care elan.
Philippe Jaroussky’s voice is surprisingly mellow, but has plenty of brilliance in the upper range. He is also very physically expressive, though never out of proportion to the music; there were occasions in the first half of Strozzi’s “L’Eeaclito amoroso” where his diction was a couple of degrees overdone, but for the most part he captured the mood and drama of the texts, particularly Monteverdi’s ‘Adagiati, Poppea … Oblivion soave’ from Act II of “L’Incoronazione di Poppea”. The “Stabat Mater” of Sances contains some unusually pungent repeating chromatic progressions, and L’Arpeggiata put particular rhythmic muscle behind Jaroussky’s poignant depiction of the text.
The concert, presented without intermission, concluded with Monteverdi’s Laudate Dominum, with each of the instruments in the text getting a chance to “call out” in the jam session style of which Pluhar and her outstanding colleagues are most impressive exponents. Among the entertaining encores was L’Arpeggiata’s genre-shatterin’, swingin’ and ring-a-ding-dingin’ jazz-inflected arrangement of Monteverdi’s solo madrigal “Ohime ch’io cado”, served up by Jaroussky with one jigger Alfred Deller, two jiggers 1950-era Sinatra, and gently shaken (definitely not stirred). Basie and the Rat Pack meets the Medicis? Dig it, baby!