Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

As the four-bar circular ground basses unfolded, theorbo-player and director
Christina Pluhar and her musical partners produced an ever-changing
kaleidoscope of harmonic, rhythmic and textural variations, blending the
‘authentic’ Baroque with the relaxed rhythms and evocative colours of jazz,
folk and world music; the idioms segued seamlessly, underpinned by a firm
structural core and articulated with astonishing skill and imagination.

Around countertenor Philippe Jaroussky’s effortlessly graceful melodies,
the instrumentalists invented and improvised, intuitively conversing with the
other voices in the musical exchange and demonstrating consummate understanding
of the art of Baroque extemporisation and ornamentation combined with the
flexible responsiveness of modern jazz.

Jaroussky sings with wonderful precision and control; his beautiful, clean
sound strokes the long, phrases into being, with just a dash of flexibility to
bring a modern touch to the classical melodies. In ‘An evening hymn’ and
‘O solitude, my sweetest choice’ the vocal line, at times pure, then more
sensuous, seemed to float in and out of the instrumental solos; in the latter,
Sarah Ridy’s harp commentary was especially affecting. ‘Strike the viol’
was more rhythmically free and like the bawdy ‘‘Twas within a furlong of
Edinboro’ Town’ (from The Mock Marriage) had an infectious energy,
driven by Boris Schmidt’s springy bass. Jaroussky displayed a judicious
feeling for the comic in ‘Man is for the woman made’, performed as a wry
encore; elsewhere he emphasised the ethereal beauty of Purcell’s sighing
melodies, as in ‘One charming night’ from The Faerie Queen.

One could not pick out an individual instrumentalist for especial praise;
this is truly a collective performance and they all impressed both in the
Purcell inventions and in the intervening instrumental items such as Maurizio
Cazzati’s Ciaccona Op.22 No.14 and Nicola Matteis’s La dia
, in which the centuries between the time of composition and the
modern world seemed to disappear. Doron Sherwin’s cornetto was by turns
expressive and seductive, enfolding the voice, and bright and jazzy, his
extravagant flourishes thrilling as they chased the racing embellishments of
Veronika Skuplik’s baroque violin. All the players moved between modes and
moods with total naturalness; the merest changes of articulation effected
imperceptible transitions, as when Schmidt’s tender pizzicato strokes took on
a brighter, jazzier hue, lifting a melancholy, introspective ground bass into a
spirited dance.

When I heard L’Arpeggiata in October last year, I noted that percussionist
David Mayoral’s ‘astonishing percussion playing drew gasps … 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.’ Mayoral cast his percussive spell once more in an extended
improvisation in which he seemed almost entranced by his own rhythmic
invocation, his hypnotic riff bringing a smile of pleasure and affection to the
lips of his fellow musicians.

Pluhar’s wonderful invention and technical mastery was showcased in
Giovanni Kapsberger’s Toccata arpeggiata; and,
in the closing song, the plaint ‘O let me weep’ from The Faerie
,Skuplik and Jaroussky wove a wonderfully sensitive duet for
baroque violin and voice, profound with melancholy.

L’Arpeggiata did not simply perform arrangements of Purcell; rather they
created entirely new, highly original, works. Their musicianship, technical
prowess and the joy that their shared musical dialogue so obviously inspired,
both on the platform and among the audience of the Wigmore Hall, made this
performance an absolute delight. It was standing-room only, and two encores —
a wry touch of self-parody followed by a beautifully simple rendition of
Dido’s lament, ‘When I am laid in earth’ — just didn’t seem enough.
The final bass pizzicato whispered and faded into the still air; a magical,
otherworldly moment to close an utterly bewitching performance.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Christina Pluhar — director, theorbo; Philippe Jaroussky —
countertenor; Veronika Skuplik — baroque violin; Doron Sherwin — cornetto;
Sarah Ridy — baroque harp; Eero Palviainen — lute; Boris Schmidt — double
bass; David Mayoral — percussion; Francesco Turrisi —harpsichord, organ;
Haru Kitamika — harpsichord, organ. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday
10th July 2014.

Cazzati, Ciaccona; Purcell, ‘Music for a while’,
‘‘Twas within a furlong of Edinboro’ Town’; Matteis, La dia
; Purcell, ‘An evening hymn’, ‘Strike the viol’;
Kapsberger, Toccata arpeggiata; Purcell, ‘O solitude, my sweetest
choice’, ‘Two in One upon a Ground’, ‘A Prince of glorious race
descended’, ‘One charming night’; Anonymous (instrumental); Purcell,
‘How the Deities approve’; Improvisation; Purcell, ‘Curtain tune’,
‘The plaint’.

image_description=Christina Pluhar
product_title=Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Christina Pluhar