El Mundo opens Tropical Baroque Festival in lively style
The 2016 edition of the Tropical Baroque Festival opened auspiciously on Friday night with the eight-member ensemble El Mundo. One of the greatest strengths of this annual event by the Miami Bach Society is the opportunity to hear top-notch early music groups in intimate settings. Although the acoustic in the sanctuary of St. Philips Episcopal Church in Coral Gables is on the bright side, the immediacy was an asset in a program that mixed music from the circle of 17th-century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi with European and Latin American works from the Kingdoms of Castile, the far flung colonial outposts of the Spanish Court.
El Mundo, a group of first-rate Baroque stylists, is particularly distinguished by the presence of two remarkable sopranos, Jennifer Ellis-Kampani and Nell Snaidas. Singing with minimal vibrato, their pristine timbres and the clarity of their highest register were a constant delight. Joined by bass Paul Shipper, they opened with a courtly air by Francesco Manelli, with Snaidas playing guitar as well. (On his own, Shipper assayed ditties by Frescobaldi and Juan de Arañes in the direct manner of a folk balladeer.)
In the dramatic recitative of Sdegno campion audace by Domenico Mazzocchi, Snaidas displayed earthy operatic temperament and agile coloratura. Mazzocchi’s scena is surprisingly closer to Mozart than his own 17th century musical milieu. Ellis-Kampani’s light voice and multihued vocal coloring shone impressively in British composer Nicholas Lanier’s No More Shall Meads Be Decked With Flowers. The gracefulness of Lanier’s music was spun by Ellis-Kampani with the ease of a pop vocalist.
Jose Marin ‘s Ojos pues me desdeñais, a warning not to look at a woman with scornful eyes, is often sung in English translation. In the original Spanish, Snaidas became a thespian, bringing drama to the sadness of the text while maintaining a flawless Baroque vocal line. Handel wrote his only Spanish language work for the court of Naples which was under control of Castile. The Cantata a voce sola con chitarra espagnola is replete with the composer’s typical operatic ingenuity and thematic invention. The purity of Ellis-Kampani’s top range and the beauty of her voice had the full measure of Handel’s score, from intense recitative to rhythmically springy tunes.
Ellis-Kampani became a Baroque cabaret entertainer, bringing charm and humor to Juan Hidalgo’s Ay que si, playing tambourine as a beat to the accompaniment. Ellis-Kampani and Snaidas swayed to the music in the evening ending A del dia de la fiesta, a cycle by José de Orejon y Aparicio filled with great melodies in the manner of a Spanish Monteverdi. The soprano duo was totally captivating.
Besides providing outstanding backup to the vocal pieces, the players excelled in an array of ensemble and solo works. Director Richard Savino, a master of the guitar and therbo, hosted the program, combining the scholarly manner of a musicologist with the wry delivery of a talk show host. His direct, firm command of the therbo easily brought out the restrained beauty of Alessandro Piccinini’s Toccata. Gaspar Sanz’s guitar music was adapted by Joaquin Rodrigo in his Fantasia para un gentilhombre. Playing a selection of the Sanz originals, Savino offered bracing musicality and a lovely sound that was reminiscent of Segovia. Savino teamed with the excellent Serafin Smiggelskiy for Francesco Corbetta’s fetching Sinfonia a due for guitar and cello.
With violinists Zachary Carrettin and Maureen Murchie and harpsichordist Matthew Dirst, the full ensemble was rousing in Marco Uccellini’s La Gran Battaglia, the Baroque version of country fiddling. Throughout the evening, the string players intonation was solid and true. There were toe-tapping rhythms in Andrea Falconieri’s Ciaconna, with Shipley’s castanets adding spice and authenticity. Beautiful melodies followed one another in profusion in a symphonia by Domenico Scarlatti, with the ensemble gutsy and energetic. Playing rarely heard repertory, El Mundo astutely mixed entertainment with outstanding musicianship.
The Tropical Baroque Music Festival continues 4 p.m. Sunday at the Coral Gables Museum with violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky & Friends playing works by Biber, Frescobaldi, Corelli, Bach, Telemann and Handel. miamibachsociety.org 305-669-1376
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Sat Feb 27, 2016
at 11:53 am