in: Reviews

October 4, 2010

Ideal Setting for Well-Played Corelli et al from Duo Marésienne

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Performing together as the Duo Marésienne, lutenist Olav Chris Henriksen and viola da gambist Carol Lewis brought us a varied program of 18th-century music titled “In the Wake of Corelli,” in a concert sponsored by the Viola da Gamba Society – New England in the chapel of the First Church in Cambridge on Saturday evening at 8 pm.

The sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) composed originally for violin and continuo (usually keyboard and a bass instrument), were subsequently arranged for and performed on all kinds of instruments. Taking their cue from this well-documented practice, Henriksen and Lewis presented a varied repertory by Italian composers active from the early to the mid-18th century whose music sounds equally well on violin or viol and on harpsichord or lute. First on Saturday’s program was the third in Corelli’s famous set of twelve violin sonatas, Op. 5, found in a manuscript arrangement for viola da gamba from around 1720.

Held between the knees and played with a convex bow held underhand, the viola da gamba was prized for the beauty and clarity of its tone and its flexibility in fast passages. In Carol Lewis’s capable hands, phrasing evolved with perfect naturalness, intricate ornaments an integral part of beautifully shaped melodic lines. Henriksen’s archlute is a copy of an Italian baroque instrument built by Boston’s own Joel van Lennep. It looks like a Renaissance lute but with a straight neck lengthened to accommodate seven additional bass strings outside the fingerboard in addition to the stopped strings. Giovanni Zamboni, composer of a set of twelve sonatas for solo lute, was himself a lute virtuoso.

If the introductory “Arpeggio” of his twelfth sonata seemed familiar, it is most likely because the C-major Prelude from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, sounds for all the world like a lute prelude transferred to the keyboard. In fact, Bach was an admirer of the great German lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss, resident in Rome during the same years as Zamboni. The Arpeggio was followed by a lively “Ciaccona,” a series of progressively complex variations on a short harmonic pattern, which Henriksen played with virtuosic aplomb.

Next we heard a viola da gamba adaptation of a violin sonata by Michele Mascitti, a Neapolitan violinist who settled in Paris in the early 18th century and was a favorite of viola da gamba players a well as violinists. In Lodovico Fontanelli’s “Sonata per archileuto e basso,” the viola da gamba provided the supporting bass accompaniment while the lute carried the elaborately ornamented melodic line in a “mandolin style” evoking Vivaldi’s concertos for that instrument.

After the intermission, Mr. Henriksen exchanged his archlute for a large thirteen-course Baroque lute, also by Joel van Lennep, its increased resonance and dynamic range well suited to the “Galant” or “sensitive” style pieces from the mid-18th century that made up the second part of the program. For solo lute we heard two stylized dances, an Allemande and a Gigue by Giuseppe Porsile, a Neapolitan composer who settled in Vienna and, by Paolo Carlo Durante (another Neapolitan), an improvisatory Fantasia followed by a Fuga, in which strict part writing alternated with rhapsodic episodes full of contrasts of mood and dynamics. Giorgio Antoniotti’s Sonata VI, Op. 1 was composed for cello or viola da gamba and continuo accompaniment, engaging the lute in spirited dialog with the viola da gamba, particularly in the fast second and fourth movements. The concluding Solo per la viola gamba with lute continuo by Carlo Zuccari (1704-1792) seemed to have one foot in the Baroque and the other in the fanciful world of the Galant style.

The small, intimate space of the chapel of the First Church was ideally suited to the instruments and their chamber repertory, the subtleties of which can easily be lost in a larger hall. Brief remarks by both players on the instruments and their repertory contributed to our pleasure in their virtuoso performances and our own discovery of this little-known repertory.

Virginia Newes lives in Cambridge. She was Associate Professor of Music History and Musicology at the Eastman School of Music.

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