Venice's Janus Face

Chi Archi Del Cherubino
The Capstone, Liverpool
21st November 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Tonight was the opening event in Hope University's own Cornerstone Arts Festival. Despite the terrible weather everyone from the glitterati downwards to friends and family had turned up in expectation of a night to remember. The hard part was struggling through the sponsors enclosure to gain the stairs to the first floor bar, where the atmosphere was no less charged.

A nearly full house eased itself into the auditorium, prior to the introductory speech from new artistic director Alberta Sanna and then the orchestra, Gli Archi Del Cherubino, formed in L'Aquila Italy in 2007, under it's leader Judith Hamza, took centre stage. The group have championed the cultural revival of that city after an earthquake in 2009 killed 309 people.

Consisting of eight violins (including Sanna), two violas, two cellos, and piano/harpsichord the immaculately dressed players positioned themselves in an arc, violins and violas towards the periphery, cellos and pianist at the centre.

Venice's Janus Face was to be represented by a concert of two halves. Canzonas from Giovanni Gabrielli (late 16th to early 17th century) before the interval and Tomaso Albinoni's Sinfonias (late 17th to mid 18th century), after it.

The Canzonas were short pieces in five to eight parts. They came and went without breaks in each piece, very rapidly, necessitating changes to the distribution of the players to emphasise which of the strings was to take the main line. With only a slight hiccup in the cellos this was impeccably achieved.

The final Sonata No13 was the only departure from the set pieces that had gone before, being longer and more lively. Each work was accompanied by backdrop projected images evoking the life, times and mystery of the city, one that has captivated tourists over the centuries.

Curiously on the day of the concert the modern day incumbents of this floating wonder have become so upset with new arrivals dragging noisy suitcases to their hotels that a fine of 500 euros will be imposed on those who continue to do so. The price of a cup of coffee on the Piazzo San Marco should be incentive enough not to do it!

After the break it was the turn of Albinoni's Sinfonias. In different keys they all adopted the same Allegro, Adagio, Allegro, format with breaks between each movement. Only the last works in G Minor and G Major differed, having an Allegro, Largetto e sempre piano - in fact for harpsichord and Allegro, Larghetto and Allegro structures respectively.

Like the earlier Canzonas these Sinfonias were very easy on the ear and followed precise developments requiring concise teamwork, but with virtuosity at a premium. It was a case of miss following the leader at your peril,el while the retentive and repetitive nature of it all could not dispel the dedication of the performers.

Tonight was evidence that Venetian music was not all about Vivaldi. Like fishermen reeling in a salmon the players bobbed and weaved in unison to an ultimate encore, before it was back into the cold and rain after a few hours in the sun.

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