The Glory of Venice – Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr with Carolyn Sampson & Rowan Pierce at Milton Court – Monteverdi Motets & Dario Castello Sonatas

“The Academy of Ancient Music explores the flourishing Venetian music scene of the 17th-century with a particular focus on the works of Claudio Monteverdi. Claudio Monteverdi was the chief architect of 17th-century Venice’s musical boom, and the AAM celebrates the 450th anniversary of the birth of this extraordinary composer across the 2016-17 season. Next to Monteverdi, Dario Castello enjoys a more modest reputation, and there is even question around whether he existed at all or if the name is an anagram of the real composer of his music. Whoever their author, his popular and adventurous sonatas are a worthy equal to Monteverdi’s sacred duets…” [Barbican Centre website]

Monteverdi Motets and Sonatas by Dario Castello

Venite sitientes ad aquas; Sonata duodecima; O bone Jesu; Sonata sesta; Exulta, filia Sion; Sonata undecima; O beatae viae; Sancta Maria succere miseris; Sonata quarta; Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius; Sonata seconda; Jubilet tota civitas; Sonata nona; Cantate Domino

Carolyn Sampson & Rowan Pierce (sopranos)

Academy of Ancient Music
Richard Egarr (harpsichord & organ)

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 7 December, 2016
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

VeniceRichard Egarr introduced a beautifully balanced programme of 17th-century Venetian music, interspersing ravishing Monteverdi Motets with Sonatas by the mysterious Dario Castello. He worked at St Mark’s at the same time as Monteverdi, in charge of the wind band, but nothing is known about him. On the evidence of Egarr’s enthusiasm and Castello’s wildly original music it is time this was rectified. His Sonatas, published in 1621 and 1629, were bestsellers all over Europe in spite of their fiendish difficulty.

‘Venite sitientes’ (Come you thirsty ones) opened the recital, Carolyn Sampson and Rowan Pierce making an offer no-one could refuse. The blending of these two gorgeous voices was thrilling, Pierce pure and crystalline, Sampson weightier and emotional but still completely true. Suspensions and embellishments sensuously expressed the text “Hasten and buy for no money honey and milk … the wine of sacred wisdom.” Sampson’s solo ‘Exulta, filia Sion’ was an extraordinary demonstration of virtuoso technique, involving the rhythmic figures and decoration so characteristic of Monteverdi but performed with a natural, improvised style.

Academy of Ancient MusicPhotograph: Castello Sonatas were just as intense, and varied in flavour according to the instruments; the cornetto and the dulcian were the most unusual. Sonata ‘sesta’ opens with the cornetto, an oboe/trumpet hybrid, accompanied by an organ, playing a reedy continuo with a viola. The cornetto lent a sonorous almost human tone for the mercurial changes in moods and tempos, and played with great dexterity by Josué Meléndez. The dulcian’s earthy tones were showcased in Sonata ‘undecima’, played with equal skill by Benny Aghassi, with wit and mobility. The theorbo was a little underpowered, but the AAM musicians provided splendid and colourful contributions.

The final Motets were showstoppers. Pierce’s ‘Laudate dominum’ was full of effects of the many instruments praised in the text, lovely in detail and sound. ‘Jubilet tota civitas’ contained a surprise, as Sampson was hidden in the Gallery: the separation of the voices brought further exquisite delight.

The programme is repeated on Friday December 9 at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge.

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