Himmelsmusik: L’Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Past performances at Wigmore Hall by L’Arpeggiata (


with soprano Raquel Andueza, male soprano Vincenzo Capezzuto and dancer
Anna Dego;

La dama d’AragÛ

with soprano N˙ria Rial) have brought the spirit of folk music and the
sultriness of jazz together with the formal sophistication of the Baroque,
evoking the romance of the Mediterranean and the mystery of Catalonia, the
infectious liveliness of dance and song setting the toes of the Wigmore
Hall audience tapping. This concert, in which director/theorbist Christina
Pluhar and her musicians were joined by Belgian soprano CÈline Scheen, was
a more sober, cerebral and spiritual affair, focusing on connections
between the German and Italian traditions. Entitled Himmelsmusik
(Heavenly music), the programme sought to illustrate the interplay between
north and south during the Baroque, during a time when German traditions of
counterpoint and chorale were both sustained and developed, as well as
integrated with Italian innovations such as poly-choral antiphony and solo

One of the great joys of this concert was that we were introduced to
several masters of the north-German Baroque, many of whom were prolific but
whose music is infrequently heard. Johann Theile
(1646-1724) was a student of Heinrich Sch¸tz in Saxony and was esteemed
among contrapuntists such as Dietrich Buxtehude. Theile was also one of the
founding fathers of German opera, his 1678 Adam und Eva being the
opening production at the Theater auf dem G‰nsemarkt in Hamburg – the first
German opera house. ‘Nun, ich singe, Gott, ich knie’ (Now I sing, God, I
kneel), however, is far from theatrical: the voice, representing the
Daughter of Zion (the work is titled Der Sionitin Wiegenlied)
sings a humble lullaby – though the powerful vitality of the rich, dense
organ (played by Haru Kitamika) in the instrumental opening served as a
reminder of the significant role played by the organ, and organists, in
municipal life.

CÈline Scheen’s exquisite phrasing and carefully placed nuance perfectly
captured the text’s spirit of tenderness and love, though elsewhere the
purity of Scheen’s sound sometimes served the text less satisfactorily.
Crato B¸tner (1616-79, sometimes known as B¸thner, Bytner or Buthnerus) was
organist and Kapellmeister at the churches of first St Saviour and then St
Catherine in Danzig. ‘Ich suchte des Nachts’, a setting of text from the
Song of Solomon text, is a more sensuous expression of religious devotion
than Thiele’s, the erotic inferences of lines such as the opening
statement, ‘By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth’, being
conveyed by the vibrancy of the violins’ interplay (Simone Slattery,
Catherine Aglibut). Scheen once again displayed a crystalline tone, and
considerable vocal agility, but I’d have liked greater variety of colour to
complement and bring to the fore the textual inflections.

Christian Ritter (c.1645-1717), an organist and composer based in Dresden,
drew more directly on Italian sources in his Latin motet, ‘O amantissime
sponse’ (O most loving spouse) which was an adaptation of a motet for two
sopranos, two violins and continuo by Vicenzo Albrici. Here, the ensemble
imbued the fairly short melodic lines and motifs which an impassioned
energy which was further vivified by Ritter’s harmonic adventurousness.

Franz Tunder (1614-67) represents the preceding generation: he studied in
Rome under Frescobaldi before returning home to take up the position of
organist at the Marienkirche in L¸beck, where he would be succeeded by
Dietrich Buxtehude, the latter going on to develop the Abendsmusik
concerts given on Sunday evenings which Tunder had established – and for
which ‘Ein kleines Kindlein’ may well have been composed. The sincerity and
cleanness of Scheen’s vocal line communicated the depth of Tunder’s
expression, her soprano borne aloft on bright instrumental colours,
energised ensemble conversations, and a lightly tripping triple-time
rhythm. There was similarly engaging instrumental playing ‘Ninna nanna al
Bambin Gies˘’ (Lullaby for Baby Jesus) by an unknown composer, where Pluhar
created a strong sense of forward movement, driving on the winding inner

We were on more familiar ground with two compositions by Heinrich Sch¸tz
(1585-1672). ‘Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott’, a solemn work for soprano,
instrumental consort and continuo, probably dates from c.1613, after the
composer’s visit to Venice. L’Arpeggiata captured the grand solemnity of
this work: there is flamboyance in the instrumental gestures which suggest
an Italianate influence, and some elaborate organ rhetoric, but the overall
mood – significantly enhanced by the serene focus of the vocal line – was
one of contrition. Scheen made a similarly strong contribution in ‘Von Gott
will ich nicht lassen’ (I will not abandon God), which followed segue. This
‘sacred concerto’ comes from Sch¸tz’s later collection, Symphonium sacrarum and is written ‘in our German mother tongue’,
and again I found Scheen’s diction wanting occasionally, and the organ a
little too present. But, at the close Scheen’s soprano took off in glorious
full flight, “Ihm sei Lob, Her’ und Pres. Amen” (Praise, honour and glory
to Him), confirming the appropriateness of the memorial which the mason
engraved into the composer’s tomb: ‘musicus excellentissimus’.

Between the vocal items, instrumental a Chiaccona by Maurizio Cazzati
(1616-78) and an anonymous Chiaconna ‡ 4 offered an ensemble sound by turns
glossy, bright, urbane and sombre, with striking use made of dynamic
contrast and plentiful evidence offered of the players’ facility and
judicious flamboyance. A contrast was provided by the mellifluous
polyphonic linearity of the Sonata ‡ 6 in E minor by the Verona-born
Antonio Bertati (1605-69) who worked at the Imperial Court in Vienna as an
instrumentalist, before becoming Kapellmeister in 1649. Like Bertati,
Giovanni Kapsberger (c.1580-1651) was a native Italian: born in Venice he
was an inhabitant of Rome as a young man. His Toccata L’Arpeggiata was
performed with a vivid, improvisatory zest. And, there were ‘canonic’ items
too: the first of Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas and the Prelude of J.S.
Bach’s Second Cello Suite in which Josetxu ObregÛn balanced elegance with
expressive rhetoric.

It was the Italians who had last word; and, showed how they led the field
in blending secular song idioms with sacred texts and contexts. Native
Roman Giovanni Felice Sances (c.1600-79) travelled to Vienna to take up
employment at the court chapel of Emperor Ferdinand II in 1636, but his Stabat Mater exudes the idiomatic gestures of the Italian lament,
and Scheen’s expressive elaborations over the descending ostinato bass were
beguiling. Monteverdi’s ‘Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius’ (Praise the Lord
in his sanctuary) ensured that, despite the gravity of much of the
evening’s musical expression of devotion, it was with joyful verve that
proceedings closed.

Pluhar heralds from Graz, the second largest city in Austria, and studied
at her home town’s historic university. So, in some senses, this programme
took her back to her roots, but the inventiveness and imagination of its
delivery confirmed that she, and L’Arpeggiata, never cease pushing the
boundaries of the Baroque.

L’Arpeggiata’s new disc,


, was released this month on the Warner Classics Label.

Claire Seymour

L’Arpeggiata: Himmelsmusik

Christina Pluhar (director, theorbo), CÈline Scheen (soprano)

Johann Theile – Der Sionitin Wiegenlied: ‘Nun, ich singe, Gott,
ich knie’; Maurizio Cazzati – Chiaccona; Heinrich Sch¸tz – ‘Erbarm dich
mein, o Herre Gott’ SWV447, ‘Von Gott will ich nicht lassen’ SWV366; J.S
Bach – Prelude from Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV1008; Crato B¸tner –
‘Ich suchte des Nachts in meinem Bette’; Anon – Chiaccona ‡ 4 in C;
Christian Ritter – ‘O amantissime sponse’; Antonio Bertali – Sonata ‡ 6 in
E minor; Franz Tunder – ‘Ein kleines Kindelein’; Heinrich Biber – ‘Mystery
Sonata’ No.1 in D minor (‘Die Verk¸ndigung’/The Annunciation); Anon –
‘Ninna nanna al Bambin Gies˘’; Giovanni Kapsberger – Toccata L’Arpeggiata;
Giovanni Felice Sances – Stabat mater; Claudio Monteverdi –
‘Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Wednesday 31st October 2018.

product_title=L’Arpeggiata (director, Christina Pluhar), Wigmore Hall, 31st October 2018
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id= Above: CÈline Scheen