Saturday, October 11, 2008


No, this is not a personal story...sadly...it was the theme of last night's concert in the packed Grand Hall of the Music Academy (which is not used to having a packed hall, mostly), consisting of French and Italian love cantatas plus some harpsichord interludes. As befits the Banchetto musicale festival, part of which this concert was, it was all performed on original instruments (or modern copies thereof), including a harpsichord, viola da gamba or cello, a theorbo, and baroque oboe, plus a young soprano singer, Agnes Alibert from France (definitely not a copy of an old instrument - would they have used a woman or a castrato singer in France at the time? In Italy they would have used a castrato....).

At this stage you might be looking for an analysis of the differences between French and Italian baroque music (which exist). I could also be saying something about appoggiaturas in singing and cadence points. Well, you ain't going to get that; I was too far away from the action, and there were many and continuing distractions around me during the concert. (The harpsichordist, Imbi Tarum, will remember trying to get the audience to quieten down every time she played a solo.) Also I had lent my programme to some young boys and did not get it back. (One must encourage the young 'uns!)

I know these pieces need a harpsichord, but neither the harpsichord nor the theorbo were particularly audible when the gamba/cello and oboe were playing.  The theorbo seemed particularly pointless, though it was nice to look at.

Generally the performances went very well, and reflected clearly the joy and the pain of love. The singer smiled non-stop and expressed the songs beautifully, though there were the (very) occasional intonation problems and the playing style was appropriately 'historically informed'. Could not understand the words at the back of the hall, and it took to the end of the French part of the programme to clearly identify the singing language....I wondered whether the oboist had at one stage mechanical problems with his instrument; it sounded a bit blocked. Also it sounded flat to my ears, but that's probably because the tuning would be more like a=415 rather than the higher modern tuning. The difference in sound between an old-style oboe and a modern one was quite noticeable.  I think our Robertas Beinaris could have played the oboe with more character, more singingly.

The harpsichord did come through loud and clear during the two harpsichord only interludes, some pieces by Rameau in the first half and Scarlatti's version of La Folia in the second half. All pieces were dripping with ornamentation, trills all over the place.....I always think that the theme of La Folia is too short, and that it goes into the variations too fast, but there we are. Scarlatti's variations, using two manuals (did they have those in Italy at the time?) were very virtuosic indeed.