Monday saw the start of our Baroque mini-series, an idea that is getting wonderful response from our patrons. Soloists and ensembles from Europe and, this time also from Australia, will be regaling us with works from the Italian, German, French, English, Flemish, Spanish, and South American Baroque in a concentrated 4-day period.
The first concert saw the participation of organist Gianluca Libertucci and trumpeter Gianpiero Cristaldi in a concert featuring works by Italian, German, French, and Spanish Baroque masters. Libertucci is at the top of his game. Occupying posts as prestigious as organist at St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, doesn’t get much better or onerous, and he proved his mettle performing on the antique Baroque organ at St George’s Basilica. Performing in duo formation with accomplished trumpeter Gianpiero Cristaldi, this proved to be a most sophisticated concert.
Starting with one of Telemann’s numerous Sonatas, the one in D Major, a most refined and elegant mood was set by the unique tones of the organ and silver hues of the trumpet. The first movement, a Spiritoso, was characterized by ringing flourishes on the trumpet in frequent antiphonal responses with the organ. The second movement, a Largo, gives scope for more expressive moments. Scored for organ solo (thereby giving a much-needed respite for the trumpet), Libertucci managed to coax the most mellow tones out of the organ, while the third movement, a Vivace, once again saw the pairing of the two instruments in a movement bristling with Baroque exuberance.
Two of the organ solos consisted of Bach’s delectable two-part Inventions, no. 1 BWV772 and no. 8 BWV779. The first of Bach’s famous little finger exercises began with the right hand playing a generally upward-lifting melody that hardly ever paused, while the left hand provided a steady but obviously simpler accompanimental melody in the bass. Near the end, however, Bach writes a brief call and response passage, the two hands gently tossing back and forth the half-bar motif that pervades this entire invention, before joining forces again for the final measures. With the second Invention, the balance between the two-part writing remained in constant motion through its brief duration; the main line, in the right hand, came across as perky and chattering, while the left hand repeated everything just a few steps behind throughout. Articulation was the order of the day, every single note clear and given its weight while the contrapuntal texture of Bach’s network in both pieces was woven like filigree.
Two other Bach pieces, this time in collaboration with the trumpet, were ‘Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott’ BWV721 and ‘Gott durch deine Güte’ BWV600. Once again, balance between both instruments was well-nigh perfect, with the former piece coming across as a highly expressive miniatures based on a Chorale melody, supported with refined counterpoint, and featuring highly condensed motivic writing, and the second piece performed as a gentle Chorale Prelude. It opened with a bright theme on the trumpet, underneath which there is finely imagined canonic activity on the organ. In the lower ranges, a roaming ostinato figure could be heard further enhancing the joyous mood of the piece. In the end, the subtle detail and craftsmanship Bach invested this work with is a marvel: the listener often notices something entirely new on each audition.
Four miniatures for organ solo by Giovanni Battista Martini followed. These were Toccata in C Major, Grave in F Minor, Sonata ‘sui flauti’ in C Major, and Toccata per il ‘Deo gratias’ in D Major.These four pieces were contrasting in mood and texture, with the lively and capricious Toccata in C Major followed by a sombre and sedate Grave in F Minor. The Sonata ‘sui flauti’ in C Major manifested Martini’s fondness for the upper registers of the organ while the final piece, the Toccato per il ‘Deo gratias’ in D Major is the recessional to his Missa Solemnis, a work exemplary of the highly decorative art of the Late Baroque. Given that the antique organ is just over two octaves in range, Libertucci worked marvels in terms of dynamics and articulation. A true master!
Paradis’ Sicilienne was a charming little piece for trumpet and organ, alternating between them a generous, graceful and arching melodic line which shifted gently from major to minor over a simple, cradle-song rocking accompaniment while in Fenaroli’s Presto (fugato) from his Sonata in D Minor, Libertucci once again exhibited formidable technical prowess in his negotiating a hyperbolic thousand notes. Purcell’s Sonata in D Major is a perfect example of English Baroque (an almost oxymoronic term, I should add!) Festive and brilliant it remains, on the other hand, understated in true English fashion.
Domenico Scarlatti was represented in two little Sonatas, at which he was such an expert, having written over 500 of them. These one-movement pieces are perfect for the Baroque organ, and are recognized as cornerstones of the keyboard repertoire, a bridge between the Baroque and the galant styles of keyboard writing. They demonstrate his facility in adapting rhythms found in contemporary Iberian popular music and his inventiveness in creating themes and developing interesting harmonies. Libertucci tackled these works with assurance and confidence, as indeed were the hallmarks that characterized this performance throughout.
The final piece on the programme was Mouret’s Premiere Suite de fanfares, a work that showcases to the full the potential of the trumpet, with its boisterous fanfares and brilliant rhythms. This work falls into four distinct movements and it anticipates the Classical Sonata as worked by Haydn and Mozart in the mid-eighteenth century. It made considerable demands on the trumpet, both technically and musically, and the organ is not just an accompanying instrument but a partner in the developing structure of the Suite.
A resounding round of applause greeted the performers at the end of their recital. As an encore, they performed the immortal ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ by Jeremiah Clarke with panache and exuberance.
A truly fitting start to what promises to be a highly-interesting Baroque week!