Monteverdi String Band, St Mary’s, Warwick
THERE has always been something slightly easy-going about music from the baroque era.
Perhaps it’s the way it has become the go-to music for short-cut relaxation compilations or documentary soundtracks involving any sort of marginally frilly content. Outside the realm of those who truly know their stuff, it has also habitually avoided the introspective intellectualism that comes with so much later music.
This fine programme, drawing people out on a cold, dark night seemed to have a foot in both camps – a little learning made wholly palatable by a large measure of sheer fun. Quite a few unfamiliar names on the set list, but nothing that will leave us scratching our heads.
The hard vastness of St Mary’s and the relative soft tones of period style instruments can make for a tricky mix but the outcome here was fine. The music sounded warm and sprightly throughout.
The Monteverdi String Band are a wonderful example of a group of talented, passionate musicians who all seem to relish putting their virtuosity on display, but who also clearly enjoy playing as a tight, beautifully-balanced ensemble.
There were undoubted highlights in the form of individual party pieces. Oliver Webber’s solo Toccata sandwiched between two impressive works from Marini was superb, proof that while modern strings and bow tension may have improved attack and clarity, it did not invent them. Who knew a period set-up could sound quite like that?
There were fabulous contributions too from Toby Carr in a Piccinini piece showing the astounding dynamic range of the theorbo and a bass violin solo by Gabrielli allowing Christopher Suckling to demonstrate how virtuosity on that instrument would, in time, excite the attention of Bach and beyond.
By the end of this romp through the sound of the seventeenth century we arrive at music which has a clear life beyond just entertainment. The final offerings from Rosenmuller and Legrenzi are works that demand to be listened to, not just heard as pleasingly ornate wallpaper.
There was an instructive element to the evening in its gradual progression through the development of this music, but it was instruction of the gentlest nature. This was primarily a programme of music there to be enjoyed and, thanks to the mastery and generosity of its players, enjoyed it certainly was.
Leamington Music continues throughout the first part of the year with a series of concerts at the Pump Rooms and various venues in the area. For full details and the chance to book to hear top class music visit leamingtonmusic.org.