Concert Review: Vivaldi’s Lute – Camerata Tinta Barocca, Uwe Grosser

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Camerata Tinta Barocca, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Wed 18 Feb 2015

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The evening opened in a dreamy passacaglia by Biagio Marini, setting an elegant, graceful atmosphere of the finest Italian baroque. Beginning on his bass lute, (chittarone) Grosser provided a basso continuo – a form of accompaniment that encourages improvisation. Talking to him afterwards, Grosser explained how he enjoys arranging the figured bass line much like jazz musicians interpret a standard.

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There is such a wonderful feeling of freshness in these early works, composed when classical music was new and its harmony was still forming. Trends became fashionable and disappeared as quickly as they do today, as Erik Dippenaar mentioned in his pre-concert talk, and it always fascinates my imagination to hear a 17th century compositions played on the instruments of the day as if it were modern, and to think that these early composers could have no idea of what happened in later centuries as a result of their explorations.

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One of the most enjoyable elements in early baroque music for me is the enigmatic logic in the number of bars. Our western ears have become so accustomed to four bar phrases, like walking around a square courtyard. But in baroque music the concrete of this logic had not completely set, so one has a feeling of arriving one bar too soon at a cadence, or that some of these squares must actually be triangles. I imagine this would be either frustrating or delightful depending on one’s level of comfort with odd timings – I find it mesmerizing – like becoming completely lost in a beautiful, elegant palace with many courtyards and gardens, most of which have four walls, some have three, or five, and although blissfully disorientated, one always arrives back at the beginning, just as Douglas Hofstadter’s describes “strange loops” in his book Godel, Escher, Bach, 1979. In clarifying the title, Hofstadter often emphasised that he is indicating our ability to form logic from a seemingly illogical distribution of information in the brain, and I can think of no stimulant more powerful than the psychoacoustic effect of baroque music to facilitate the formation of neural networks. There is something about baroque music that is so orderly, so mathematical, so fresh and peaceful, that it brings to one’s thoughts a sense of sanctuary.

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Quentin Crida and Uwe Grosser playing Vivaldi's Concerto for Viola d'amore and Lute

Quentin Crida and Uwe Grosser playing Vivaldi’s Concerto for Viola d’amore and Lute

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Vivaldi – Concerto in D Major
Most often performed on a guitar, it was a delight to hear this concerto played on the originally intended instrument. Vivaldi developed many techniques for example the pull-off, that were later famously employed by violinists like Paganini, and much later electric guitarists like Van Halen. Grosser performed this extremely technical work with dexterity. He has a wonderful sense of phrasing that can only come with experience – an amazing sense of knowing how to take his time and even to fall slightly behind during the phrase, and yet he lands on “one” perfectly at the beginning of the new phrase. CTB was at this point in the concert a quartet of two violins, cello, and harpsichord, and managed extremely skilled sensitivity to Grosser’s softly spoken lute.

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Vivaldi – Concerto in D minor, RV 540 for Viola d’amore and Lute
Cape Town is very fortunate to have a musician such as Quentin Crida – every bit as serious as granite when he performs, the dry humour of his announcements between pieces verges on stand-up comedy – we were in fits of laughter at the thought of PDQ Bach’s Concerto for bagpipes and lute! The dialogues between violin (Quentin chose this over his viola) and lute were enchanting, Grosser’s stunning right hand technique delivering a light dexterous Shakespearian accompaniment to Crida’s lyrical Largo serenade. I am always impressed with the dynamics in CTB performances. In keeping with the baroque style there is no conductor, and yet the instrumentalists seem to share the same understanding of how the work should be interpreted. They have an awareness of one another that seldom forms in larger orchestras.
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Upcoming Concerts:

Camerata Tinta Barocca – The Clarinet Shall Sound
Danrè Strydom, Head of Winds at UFS performs a fascinating programme of early works for the clarinet. Works by J Stamitz and Fasch.
20h00 Thursday 19 March 2015
Simon’s Town Methodist Church

Uwe Grosser – Duetti – for lutes and voices
Join Uwe Grosser (lute, chitarrone), Vera Vukovic (lute, soprano) and Tessa Roos (mezzo soprano) in an intimate concert of songs and duets by Dowland, Monteverdi, Kapsperger and more. Free entrance, donations welcome. Bring snacks and wine to share. Enquiries: Vera on 076 332 7768
4:00pm Sunday 1 March 2015
Weltevreden, Oranje Road, Noordhoek

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