You’d think that there would be a full house for one of the best and most famous chamber orchestras in the world last evening in Auckland. No such luck. Which is a great pity – so if I ask you why you didn’t go, you’d better have a good reason – because you missed out on some fantastic music from an ensemble who show their prowess through their playing.
Performing works of Rossini, Donizetti, Paganini, Bossi, Respighi, Bacalov and Rota under the banner of ‘Serenata Italiana’, I Musici (or, to give them their full title “I Musici di Roma”) showed us what ensemble playing is at its very best. The group is in fact on an exhausting tour of Australia and New Zealand at present having also performed as part of the Wellington International Festival of the Arts and a number of concerts for Chamber Music New Zealand.
If you’ve never heard of I Musici before, you should. Most famous for their legendary performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons amongst other similar works, they celebrate their 60th birthday at the end of this month. While the original members (famous alumni include Felix Ayo and Salvatore Accordo) have retired or passed on, the tradition and the depth of understanding is keenly felt by all the players, led by Antonio Anselmi who has been with I Musici for nine years.
Rossini’s well-known Sonata a Quattro No. 1 in G commenced proceedings. It’s a seemingly innocuous piece but easily mangled by a less-than-careful ensemble. No chance of that happeneing here, the warmth of sound amongst the players was immediately apparent. There was a surety of tone that comes from an intimate understanding not only of the music but of the players themselves.
A friend of mine had sent through an excited email from Wellington about the performance of Rossini’s Une Larme – theme and variations for cello and strings. And no wonder ! Pietro Bosna’s amazing technique and intonation was worth the price of admission alone. An absolute delight to hear and for me, the highlight of the concert.
Paganini’s Variations on “Il Carnevale de Venezia” might be familiar to students of the violin – these twenty variations make huge technical demands on the soloist and more can go wrong than right. No problem for Signor Anselmi here – clearly one of his “party pieces”, he reveled in the chance to show off his technical wizardry on his 1676 Amati (Cremona) violin. One almost expected it to start a small fire after finishing the piece, such was the energy that he put in to it.
The second half was more ‘modern’ and a partial nod to composers of great Italian films with works by, Respighi’s Aria for Strings before Luis Bacalov’s present to the ensemble, a “Concerto Grosso for I Musici’s 60th Anniversary”.
Mario Enrico Bossi won’t be a familiar name to most audiences and his Intermezzi Goldoniani would not be considered a staple of the concert repetory. More famous in his day for being an exceptional organist and teacher, Bossi composed over a hundred and fifty works including six variations loosely based on works by the Italian playright Carlo Goldoni (hence ‘Goldoniani’). The ‘Gagliarda’ reflects the elegant courtliness of the Venetian dances of the 18th century while the ‘Serenatina’ is clearly influenced by the salon music 19th century. The closing ‘Burlesca’ is very contrapuntal but no less dance like and this was clearly conveyed throughout.
Bacalov, who composed the score for the film “Il Postino”, is clearly more comfortable in the genre and the second movement was a little schmaltzy and saccharine for my own tastes but no less elegantly performed than any other work in the programme. Again, the work was a partial showcase for the skills of Antonio Anselmi although the work did give other members to show their brilliance at times.
Normal service was resumed with the final work, the Concerto for Strings by Nino Rota, another piece written especially for the group and which they clearly felt very much at home in playing. Rota, who would be best known for his ‘Godfather’ score was a prolific composer whose output ranged from solo works to complete operas on top of the scores to 150 films. In no way was this concerto simple or modest, it demands expressive, yet subtle playing and you got the feeling that both composer and ensemble knew exactly what each of them wanted from each other. A very stylish way to finish off the listed programme.
Egged on before the start of the concert by Chamber Music NZ CEO Euan Murdoch, the audience demanded (and got) three encores, ‘The Storm’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Lilburn’s Canzona No. 1 and Rossini’s “Bolero” all of which were introduced with some dry wit from cellist Vito Paternoster and executed with vibrant energy, more subt flair and style. The Lilburn was a nice touch – I wonder whether they will make it a permanent part of their repertory ? As noted before the concert started, it has taken sixty years to get them here – hopefully it won’t take that long until they are back.