Stylus Fantasticus interpreted by two groups Reply

Review by Judith Caldwell
            Hammer Baroque presented the Rezonance Ensemble in an afternoon of Stylus Fantasticus from the seventeenth century. Stylus Fantasticus is the 1650’s version of jazz. Previously, instruments were used to accompany voices or keep time for dances, but the new style was described as ‘the most free and unrestrained method of composing, bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject’, and it was instituted to display genius’ and showcase just what instruments could do. After all this was the time of the great violin makers – Amati & Stradivarius – and they were not built to play second fiddle to a singer or dancer.

                   Benjamin Stein & his ‘theorbo’

Rezonance Ensemble played instruments from that time – baroque violin played by Rezan Onen-Lapointe; baroque cello, Rebecca Morton; harpsichord, David Podgorski and playing the huge theorbo – Benjamin Stein. A theorbo is a very large version of a lute, it is about 8 feet long, with 5 feet of elongated neck and the remainder the sound bowl. All these instruments require frequent tuning and truly dedicated musicians, but when played well the sound is marvelous. Each of the musicians of the ensemble are talented, experienced and very capable and the music they chose varied from ornate Italianate works to more conservative Germanic and Scandinavian pieces.
The first half of the concert began with a slow, mournful Italian piece that morphed into a lively tune by Mealli, who apparently greatly influenced the style. This was contrasted with two northern compositions by Schmelzer, a lovely Sonata Quarta, and Schop, whose trio Lachryme Pavaen was very mathematical and sounded like little parcels, or boxes of music pieced together.
Just before intermission Stein played a solo ‘La Folia’ on the theorbo by Castaldi whom we were told was the Kanye West of his time – a talented rebel. While each piece was being played there were visuals on the screen to help set the mood – views of the ornamentation in St. Peter’s Rome and St. Mark’s Venice, and painting by Michelangelo etc contrasted with the very spare northern style of Scandinavian Lutheran churches and paintings of skulls etc. Some of the views of architectural drawings were very evocative.
After intermission, there were northern Sonatas by Biber and Buxtehude. The Biber Sonata was accompanied by macabre pictures in sepia colour while the violin danced around the beat of the theorbo and cello. Buxtehude is better known for his organ music but the Sonata III in G minor played as a trio with violin, harpsichord and cello was simply gorgeous and beautifully played. The near capacity audience clearly loved it and the simple unadorned images of a northern cathedral complimented it. The second solo of the afternoon was Frescobaldi’s Toccata Decima played superbly by Podgorski on the harpsichord.
The afternoon ended with Sonata Prima by Castelllo during which Onen-Lapointe lost some of her music creating a very minor hiccough that everyone thought amusing – it certainly did not faze the musicians. This piece finally showed off just what the cello could do with Morton obviously enjoying herself while the violin danced around her again. Lovely music, well curated images and extremely talented musicians – a great way to spend a damp end of winter afternoon.
The next concert is Tafelmusik Baroque at Melrose United on Mar. 29th.

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