Monday, June 16, 2008

Authentic performance of street music from southern Italy

“Via Toledo”, performed by the “Accordone” Ensemble from Italy, was surely a highlight of the 2008 Israel Festival. Founded in 1984, with the aim of researching and performing Italian music from the Renaissance to the beginning of the 18th century, the group combines both musical and dramatic elements in authentic performance. This concert focused on the music of southern Italy – tarantellas, love songs, songs with religious content, laments and dances. In order to put the program together, members of the ensemble went from village to village collecting material and recording older people in songs that have been oral tradition for hundreds of years. The south of Italy, with its temperate climate, has always been the natural meeting place of people from Mediterranean countries – Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans Spaniards and French people – and the various traditions of these people have left their mark on the music of the region.

The concert began with actor and singer Pino de Vittorio singing unaccompanied. His voice is natural and strong and, between stanzas, he takes a few dance steps. We may have been sitting in a concert hall, but, in effect, we were in the streets of Italy. De Vittorio is a real showman – his singing is full of pathos; with underlying humor he croons love songs and convinces the audience of his devotion and suffering. “Na via di rose”, a traditional song from Basilicata, is a lilting love-song. The singer was accompanied by plucked instruments and a drum.
‘In the middle of the road
There is a path of roses,
I picked one and it pricked my hand.
In the middle of the road
I must make a bridge
Of precious stones, rubies and diamonds,
Not even the Saints must cross it,
But only my beloved lady for a moment
And only my beloved, in one moment
Closes the door, because the wind comes in.’

There were a number of tarantellas in the program. This dance was associated with the tarantula whose poison was said to cause convulsions, hallucinations and madness. Actually, it turns out that the spider’s bite was not poisonous but the energy of the tarantella itself inspired movement and dance that were considered therapeutic. In a group of three tarantellas with texts so very Italian, and inspired by the Neapolitan tradition, singer Marco Beasley, who edits texts sung by the group, was accompanied by plucked instruments and organ as well as frame drum and castanets.

Beasley’s tenor voice is silken and he has fine stage presence. In the unaccompanied “Pigliate l’alma mia” (Take My Soul), music by Severino Corneti (1530-1582), he used rests as a dramatic effect in a moving performance. On a very different note, “Sona Carmagnola” (At the Sound of the Bass Drum), this song of the troops of Cardinal Ruffo of Calabria (1799) tells of war and rebellion. It was introduced by plucked instruments and drum; Beasley sang the verses and the ensemble joined in, singing the refrain.

Instrumental accompaniments were delicate, authentic and tasteful. Maure Durante played a virtuosic solo on the frame drum, an unsophisticated instrument that had reached Europe through Islamic culture. Durante amazed the audience with a dazzling variety of effects, pitches and timbres.

Accordone’s performance was interesting and refreshing, dynamic and joyful. Singers and instrumentalists, under the musical direction of Guido Morini, were first class. The audience was delighted and Accordone, in true Italian spirit, obliged with four encores.

Accordone (Italy)
“Via Toledo”
Guido Morini-organ, harpsichord, musical direction
Marco Beasley-voice
Pino de Vittorio-voice, battente guitar
Stefano Rocco-lute, Baroque guitar
Fabio Accurso-lute
Franco Pavan-theorbo
Mauro Durante-frame drum, violin
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts
June 7, 2008

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