Friday, February 20, 2015

Notes from the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival (3) Accordone (Italy)

The 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, taking place in two halls of the welcoming Dan Eilat Hotel, featured two concerts of the Accordone ensemble. Founded in 1984 by Guido Morini and Marco Beasley, Accordone performs repertoire written before Bach and on period instruments. Inspired by the values, poetics and skills of early musicianship, Accordone is known for its new musicological approach to questions of interpretation, mostly performing works for voice and basso continuo from the 16th and 17th centuries. But the ensemble also brings together the interpretation of early music with new music, merging the cultural legacy of the Renaissance and Baroque with that of today. Placing emphasis on the theatrical aspect of this repertoire, Accordone’s performances are known for the remarkable voice and personality of tenor Marco Beasley and for its outstanding instrumental playing under the guidance of harpsichordist, organist and composer Guido Morini. “Accordone” means a “large chord”, the group’s name symbolizing both its well-coordinated and forthright sound and the cooperation of its musicians.

A sympathetic blend of traditional, composed and original music, “Storie di Napoli” (Stories of Naples) (February 4th) presented the distinctive character of Neapolitan music throughout the ages with scenes from everyday life and a picture of the Neapolitan people themselves, whose lives centre around love, the sea and the fatalistic trait of their existence. “To Gaol with Bakers” (anonymous), performed by Beasley and percussionist Mauro Durante, tells of the bakers’ strike of 1570, the bakers demanding a higher price for their bread. Joining the ensemble and Beasley in “Cicerenella”, an earthy, anonymous patter song hinting at the spirit of the commedia dell’arte, was dancer Silvia Durante. Durante danced to Guido Morini’s lively, instrumental “Rustic Tarantella. Morini’s forlorn and richly melodic love song “Serenade” was given a highly emotional rendering by Beasley, the concluding lines sung sotto voce and unaccompanied.
‘While you, my beauty, lie sweetly sleeping,
This sad and wretched heart bids you farewell,’
In another love song, with Morini choosing to accompany with the more modern association of the piano (rather than on harpsichord) the well-known “Dicitencello a ‘sta” (Tell It to Her) by R.Falvo and E.Fusco (1930), Beasley, seated, seemed to be confiding in the audience as friends of passion, recounting the unfortunate situation of a man’s heartbreak and how he is unable to tell the woman that he loves her. Comic relief was provided by Adriano Willaert’s (1491-1672) lighthearted Neapolitan villanelle “Vecchie Letrose” (Lazy Old Women), a vindictive and hilarious tirade addressed to the gossiping women of the town square and presented in pulsating, spirited rhythms. Also depicting different town figures was “Canzona alla Montemaranese” (Song in the Style of Montemarano). Describing the lives and thoughts of the sailor, the moneylender, the slave, the prisoner, the pilgrim and the galley slave from this village, the song mentions that all “walk with death”. Marco Beasley’s argument is that, if this is the case with each of us, why not dance rather than walk! A very different genre was singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla’s song “Caruso” (1986). Dedicated to Italian Naples-born tenor Enrico Caruso, the song, given an emotional and dynamic rendering by Beasley, tells of the pain and longings of a man about to die, looking into the eyes of a girl who was very dear to him. Italian composer and writer Vincenzo Valente (1855-1921) was known for his Neapolitan songs and operettas. “Tiempe Belle” (Good Times Past) (1916) is his most famous composition. Accordone’s arrangement of the slow, triple time song, with its small interludes, gave the song added class and charm, with Beasley singing and then waltzing with Perrone.

Several works on the program were based on the tarantella, the iconic popular dance of southern Italy. The term itself may refer to the dance or just to the music. Guido Morini’s lively “Tarantella Tapanella” (Rustic Tarantella) was danced by Silvia Perrone. Dressed in white and wielding a long scarf, she also joined Mauro Durante’s virtuosic solo tambourine performance of his own “Taranta Grecanica”. (The frenetic taranta [spider] dance, originally played on the tambourine, accompanied a woman dancer who would crawl, dance and finally collapse.)

Marco Beasley’s own “Tarantella I, II and III” opened with a stirring, vehement appeal for help for the suffering from love, with dancer Silvia Perrone, now dressed in red, appealing and feminine in movement. The second tarantella expressed even more despair:
‘Now that door, which I respect so,
I’ll smash it into a hundred pieces and goodnight!
Fair maiden, with those curls upon your brow,
Make me die, me, poor lover:
Cloud the brightness of the morning sun
And of the moon, when it rises in the east…’

With the Neapolitan’s heart worn constantly on his sleeve, and too frequently bleeding, old and new musical works proceeded hand in hand in this wonderfully rich and superbly crafted musical picture of Naples.

Created by Guido Morini, “La Bella Noeva” (Good News) (February 5th) was a different kind of program, offering a soundscape of early 17th century Italian music devoted to sacred, secular and traditional music. Here, Accordone combined informed early music performance with its signature articulacy and lively approach to text content. The program opened with works by Giulio Caccini (1550-1618), Beasley’s singing reflecting Caccini’s approach to monody that followed the intonations of speech. The last of this group of love songs was the greatly loved “Amarilli, mia Bella” (Amaryllis, my lovely one) in a fresh-sounding arrangement consisting of Beasley’s velvety singing to the intimate sounds of the lute (Gabriele Palomba), followed by an instrumental setting offering violin elaborations on the piece (Rossella Croce, Esther Crozzolara). Then three more love songs from the Italian Baroque’s large hoard – a personal reading of Biagio Marini’s (1587-1663) “Amante Lontano Della sua donna” (A Lover Away from his Lady) a song of abandonment and suffering, Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) masterfully economic but touching “Si dolce รจ’l tormento” (So Sweet is the Torment) and, finally, a happier love song - Giovanni Steffani’s “Amante Felice” (A Happy Lover). Of the program’s sacred works, two were original or with new additions: we heard Guido Morini’s instrumental “Concerto spiritual” and his addition of violin parts and a concerted ‘cello part to Venetian composer Alessandro Grandi’s “O quam tu pulchra es” (O How Fair you are). These were followed by a joyful, celebratory rendering of Monteverdi’s motet “Laudate Dominum”, its arioso style bristling in vocal and instrumental interest.

Guido Morini writes that they first heard “La Bella Noeva”, a wedding song from Liguria in northern Italy, performed by a local traditional group in a square in Genoa. Accordone performed its soothing, gently dissonanced marriage proposal setting to the delight of the audience. Concluding the traditional section and the concert itself was the ensemble’s performance of “Lo Guarracino” (The Pomfret). Marco Beasley is a born storyteller and his recounting of the story of the fish who decides he would like to marry, his courtship of the sardine, the resulting attack on him by her former lover the haddock and the battle that ensues was hearty. Beasley, the quick-change theatrical artist, pulls out all the plugs, playing all roles and singing the witty text at hell-for-leather speed, changing from lady’s voice to the gruff voice of the fish thug in delightful buffoonery and skilful satire.
‘Relatives and friends came out,
Some with clubs and knives,
Some with swords, daggers, rapiers;
One had an iron bar, another a pike;
Some came with almonds, others with hazelnuts,
This one with pincers, that one with a hammer,
And brought nougat and sesame cake...’

“La Bella Noeva” is a program rich in content and so representative of Italian life in its love songs and tenderness, its religious content, its spontaneity, its wholeheartedness, humor and warmth. In another exhilarating and thought-provoking performance, we were reminded that Accordone does not cut corners when it comes to high quality musicianship.

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