Composer Purcell with a modern twist

By William Dart

L'Arpeggiata fuses music across time and genres.
L'Arpeggiata fuses music across time and genres.

European early music group L'Arpeggiata visit Auckland this month for the first concert of a nationwide Chamber Music New Zealand tour. Music for A While features the English baroque composer Henry Purcell delivered with a twist.

Eleven musicians pit baroque cornetto and theorbo against modern clarinet and piano, together with a hip percussionist who can stir up a simmering samba shuffle when required.

This adventurous blend has fuelled a series of successful CDs and was very much in Christina Pluhar's mind when she founded the group in 2000. She saw it as a wonderful opportunity to work with musicians that she really likes, saying they were all hand-picked.

She says L'Arpeggiata took its name from a piece by a "fantastically free-thinking" Italian composer, echoing the various plucked and strummed sonorities that give the group its unique sound.

As a lutenist, Pluhar is drawn to these older instruments which, she says, are so much sweeter in sound and resonate in a beautiful and natural way.

L'Arpeggiata is known for its boldly updated performances, where jazz and classically trained musicians work together with improvisation as their common bond.

"Improvising is what musicianship's all about," Pluhar says. "In the past, every musician was expected to do so, from Bach and Handel to Chopin and Paganini."

These days, the public associates improvisation with jazz and L'Arpeggiata's pianist Francesco Turrisi and clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi come with strong credentials in that sphere.

These days, the public associates improvisation with jazz and L'Arpeggiata's pianist Francesco Turrisi and clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi come with strong credentials in that sphere.

I'm told how the 73-year-old Trovesi, who regularly records on the prestigious ECM label, was so struck by the brilliance of Purcell that he burst out, more than once, "Damn, why didn't I think of that?"

Next week you'll hear Purcell's bass lines providing the perfect starting point, with their repeating phrases forming a solid foundation for all the music-making above; lines that are "so harmonically interesting and ambiguous that you can add so much above them."

Purcell is celebrated for his many wonderful songs and you'll hear a number sung by Belgian soprano Celine Scheen and Italian alto Vincenzo Capezzuto. The two might give us their melodies in what Pluhar describes as the pure baroque manner but the accompaniments behind them travel between the centuries.

Will Capezzuto reveal his dancing skills, which he does in a rather sexy fandango clip on YouTube? And will there be laughs, as in another clip, featuring the L'Arpeggiata players chorusing in Mafioso sunglasses for a light-hearted chaconne?

Pluhar promises there will be much fun dispensed on the night.

"Humour is good for communicating with our audiences, showing them that we are enjoying ourselves. People have a good time at our concerts. That's important."

What: Auckland Arts Festival - L'Arpeggiata
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Wednesday at 7.30pm

- NZ Herald

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