L’Arpeggiata: Mediterraneo

One might think that
this sort of acoustic recipe would produce a dog’s dinner of a musical
fusion. But, at the Wigmore Hall L’Arpeggiata showed us that such a brew can
result not in a confusing concoction but rather in a new idiom — a dialogue
of diverse musical modes which share, and are underpinned by, hypnotically
revolving bass lines and effortlessly spun silky melodies, delivered with
improvisatory genius.

Founded by director and theorbo player, Christina Pluhar, L’Arpeggiata is
a flexible group combining early-music specialists with vocalists from the
‘olive frontier’. The textural complexity of theorbo, chitarra battente,
baroque harp, cornetto and psaltery is complemented by the intriguing harmonic
nuances of traditional southern songs. Presenting Mediterraneo, the
title of the group’s most recent CD recording, L’Arpeggiata created a
ceaseless sequence of melodious narrative, propelled by the romance and mystery
of the Mediterranean waters which lap the shores of Puglia, and by the venomous
bite of the tarantula spider whose toxic threat, it is believed, can be cured
by the wild energy of the tarantella dance.

The foundation block upon which the musical amalgam stands firm is the
supreme technical mastery of each of the performers, and at the core of the
recital were the instrumental tarantellas and improvisations that melded the
songs together. Bassist Boris Schmidt provided a rock solid footing upon which
the others could build, but one loosened with rhythmic restlessness and
spontaneous flourishes, the tone ever rich and full. Schmidt sashayed
effortlessly from backdrop to foreground. Taking his turn in a strikingly
inventive stream of instrumental obbligati in Maurizio Cazzati’s
Ciaccona Op.22 No.14, Schmidt astonished with his agility and
dexterity, while in ‘Tarantella napolitana, Tono hypodorico’ he indulged
his jazz groove. The relaxed, curling melodies which emanated from Doron
Sherwin’s wooden cornetto were equally and compellingly seductive; in Henry
de Bailly’s ‘Yo soy la locura’ (I am madness), the springy syncopations
of the bass provided the perfect platform for Sherwin’s delicious
between-verse dialogue with the snaps and clacks of David Mayoral’s dancing

Mayoral’s astonishing percussion playing drew gasps in ‘Tarantella Maria
di NardÛ’, as he coaxed a magical array of tones and beats, sometimes
simultaneously, from the simplest of musical means: a single drum skin emitted
a panoply of strokes, taps and pitches. Composed by L’Arpeggiata’s
guitarist Marcello Vitale, the piece also showcased his own prowess, as he
imbued the intricate baroque guitar accompaniment with thrilling vitality and

Margit ‹bellacker’s psaltery added a coloristic excitement to the
instrumental texture, her hammers caressing and pummelling the strings with a
wonderful blend of precision and passion, and providing a sweetly consoling
postlude to the lullaby, ‘Ninna nanna sopra la Romanesca’. Harpist Sarah
Ridy, whose obvious joy at the communal creativity was a delight to witness,
softly painted the sorrowful ebb and flow of waves and tears, as the
poet-narrator was overcome by loneliness and wistful longing.

Leading us through the tales, with their twists of mood and outbursts of
emotion, were soprano Raquel Andueza, and Vincenzo Capezzuto, a ‘male
soprano’. Capezzuto is not a classically trained countertenor; his voice has
the easeful inflection of the pop balladeer complemented by the nuanced
inflection of the singer-actor, and such qualities absolutely enchanted in
songs such as ‘Agapimu fidela protini’ (My true love; traditional
Greek-Salentino) and the Italian folksong ‘Silenziu d’amuri’ (Silence of
love). The concluding lines of the latter — ‘swallows, fly to my beloved/
and sing for her in life and death./ These rustic parts are like the whole
world. / You are the queen and I am the king of Spain.’ — possessed a quiet
dignity and repose. The dark resonances of Pulhar’s resounding theorbo
accompanied ‘Stu’ criatu’ (What’s created/Tarantella del Gargano), as
the singer took us to more sombre realms and deeper truths: ‘Children come
from God/ and nothing that has been created/ should be destroyed.’ The
rhythmic incisiveness of the vocal line in the traditional Greek-Salentino
song, ‘Agapimu fidela protini’ (My true love) injected poignant feeling
into the narrative: ‘When I waken, you are not there,/ and then I cry bitter

No mean dancer himself, Capezzuto was drawn into the spider’s spins and
springs in ‘Pizzica di San Vito’ (St. Vitus’s Dance/Tarantella), by
dancer Anna Dego, whose flying leap into Capezzuto’s arms reinforced his own
urgent wish that his lover should not forget him. Dego’s infectious energy
and commitment brought great immediacy to some of the songs, no more so than in
‘Pizzicarella mia’ (My little scallyway) which found Capezzuto in more
playful mode, his voice lightly caressing the text, the melody buoyant and
blithe: ‘My little scallywag,/ the way you walk, la li la, the way you walk
is dancing.’ The dancer’s ferocious, unpredictably physicality complemented
the musical virtuosity in ‘La Carpinese’ (Tarantella), as her twists and
leaps embodied the sultry warmth of the fire and sun which enflame the
woman’s passion.

Capezzuto was joined by Andueza, their voices forming a harmonious blend in
duets such as the traditional Greek-Salentino ‘Are mou rindineddha’ (Who
knows, little swallows) which opened the performance, instantly establishing a
mood of magic and mystery, inviting the audience to skim and soar with the
elusive swallows. ‘Ninna nanna sopra la Romanesca’ possessed a gentle
lyricism; ‘Oriamu Pisulina’ (My darling Pisulina) was fittingly reticent
and restrained, expressing the timid innocence and mild irritation of the
faithful lover who is teased and mocked by his thoughtless, indifferent

Andueza’s soprano guided the narrative lilt of the traditional Catalan
song, ‘La dama d’AragÛ’ (The lady of Aagon) with beautiful ease; and,
the tender repetitions of the final lines of ‘De SantanyÌ vaig partir’ (I
left SantanyÌ) expressed nostalgia and sorrow, enhanced by the theorbo’s
unobtrusive but communicative support. Andueza voice may lack some of the
diversity of colour of Capezzuto, but the higher register of ‘Son ruinato’
(I am ruined) brought a harder edge to her melodic lines, fitting for a
protagonist whose is ‘ruined with passion’. This was rich characterisation:
subsequently, the vocal line sank to burnished lower realms; the dejection of
the text, ‘I am desperate/ I have been killed’, was enhanced by the sparse
theorbo echoes.

Improvisation of immense inventiveness and immediacy underpinned all these
numbers, which segued with scarcely a halt (in performing contexts other than
the venerable Wigmore Hall, spontaneous applause and praise might have further
smudged the ‘joins’). Particularly striking was ‘La Dia Spagnola’, a
triple time chaconne which spanned an arresting range of moods from turbulence
to serenity, elation to melancholy. In an evening of pure and joyful music
making, L’Arpegiatta proved that when art meets folk meets jazz, the result
is harmony: music connects not divides.

Claire Seymour

perform twice more in the season at the Wigmore Hall: Friday 21st
March 2014 — L’Amore Innamorato (Christina Pluhar director, theorbo; Nuria Rial soprano
), and Thursday
10th July 2014 — Music for a While ( L’Arpeggiata;
Christina Pluhar director, theorbo; Philippe Jaroussky countertenor

Performers and programme:

L’Arpeggiata: Christina Pluhar – director, theorbo; Raquel Andueza
— soprano; Vincenzo Capezzuto —male soprano; Anna Dego — dancer; Doron
Sherwin — cornetto; Margit ‹bellacker — psaltery; Sarah Ridy — baroque
harp; Marcello Vitale — baroque guitar, chitarra battente; David Mayoral —
percussion; Boris Schmidt — double bass.

Traditional (Greek-Salentino), Are mou
Rindineddha; Anon. (17th century), Tres
Sirenas;Cazzati, Ciaccona; Traditional (Italy),
Stu’ criatu (Tarantella del Gargano); Kircher,
Tarantella napolitana, Tono hypodorico; Traditional (Italy),
Pizzicarella mia (Pizzica); Le Bailly, Yo soy la
locura; Improvisation, La Dia Spagnola; Traditional
La Carpinese (Tarantella del Carpino);Improvisation,
Canario; Vitale, Tarantella Maria di
NardÚ;Traditional (Italy), Ninna, nanna sopra la Romanesca;
Traditional (Catalan), De Santayi vaig
partir;Traditional (Greek-Salentino), Agapimu fidela protini;
Ferrari, Son ruinato, appassionato;Traditional
Oriamu Pisulina; Traditional
, La Dama d’Arago;Traditional (Italy),
Pizzica di San Vito (Tarantella);Pisador, Los
delfines; Improvisation, Sfessania; Traditional
Silenziu d’amuri; Traditional (Italy), Lu
Passariellu (Tarantella Pugliese)

Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 10th
October 2013.

image_description=L’Arpeggiata [Photo by International Classical Artists]
product_title=L’Arpeggiata: Mediterraneo
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: L’Arpeggiata [Photo by International Classical Artists]