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5th Jul, 2022

The Gonzaga Band slip into 17th century Milanese groove

Matthew Salisbury 23rd Mar, 2022 Updated: 23rd Mar, 2022

A STRONG flavour of 17th century Milan came flooding into Warwick with this concert, and it was a flavour redolent of complex notes, multiple chefs and the warmth of the Italian climate.

The Gonzaga Band brought not only a fine spread of music from a very rich time for composition, but the instruments that music was written for. And together it made for a highly satisfying and intriguing evening.

Music from this era is all about ornamentation and the frills and trills could hardly have been more in evidence. It’s probably a question of personal taste how thrilling or how intrusive an audience will find these monumental embelishments, but Milan clearly loved them and you could not escape them here.

St Mary’s is, for a small ensemble, a challenging space. It’s vast stone interior  provides reverb which can easily overwhelm. When more than a couple of instruments are playing at one time there is a tendency for one phrase to come crashing into the back end of the previous phrase which has not yet had time to clear the air.

To a small extent that was true of some of the pieces in this programme. Without doubt the most successful pieces were the tighter duets and trios when lines could be kept pleasingly separate from the threat of being swamped by excess acoustics.

There were some nice touches in presentation with the cornett accompanying and toying with the vocal line from a distant part of the church. With no piece longer than about five minutes this was a joyful, whistle-stop tour of Milan rather than a deep exploration of musical history.

Jamie Savan’s mastery of the cornett provided numerous highlights, most notably when used in tandem with the soprano voice – the two instruments matching perfectly and sounding some supportive and rich harmonies. There was vitruosic talent on show from the whole ensemble but Mark Caudle’s violone solo and the imposing physicality of Guy Morley’s bass sackbutt were worthy of note, as was the beautifully judged contribution of Steven Devine alternating between organ and harpsichord.

But it was the voice of Faye Newton which captured so many of the evening’s best moments. The rich pickings of the Song of Solomon provided material for three composers at different stages of the programme and the soprano voice, wonderfully animated and in complete control of the almost absurd levels of ornamentation, was more than equal to the task. So clear and so effective.

Leamington Music has announced details of the annual Music Festival over the weekend of April 28 to May 2. Visit leamingtonmusic.org to browse the full programme and book tickets.

 

Matthew Salisbury

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