In a programme inspired by “tarantism”, the delirium caused by the bite of the tarantula spider, and the sensual rituals and hypnotic healing powers of the Tarantella, early-music and Baroque crossover group L’Arpeggiata transported the audience of Cadogan Hall to the seductive heat of southern Italy with a mesmerizing concert of music by Monteverdi, Strozzi, contemporary Italian composer Marcello Vitale, and more.
An intriguing collection of instruments was arranged on the stage, including a theorbo (an over-sized, long-necked lute with a rich bass voice), drums, tambourines and castanets, a Baroque harp, a double bass, and a psalterium. Christina Pluhar, who directs L’Arpeggiata subtly yet precisely from the theorbo, introduced the programme, explaining that not all tarantellas are fast and furious, as a person whose symptoms are extreme agitation might need more soothing music to help them “get to sleep”. Whatever its mood, the Tarantella (usually in lilting 6/8 time) encompasses both the magic of music and its healing powers. For the audience at Cadogan Hall, the music was a heady mix of the magical, invigorating, exotic, passionate, delightful and unexpected. The musicians were joined by soprano Raquel Andueza, dancer-turned-singer Vincenzo Capezzuto, whose exquisite lilting voice defies description (a high tenor, but not quite a countertenor, clear and fluting), and dancer Anna Dego, whose sensuous and suggestive movements brought the Tarantella even more vividly to life.
Opening with a toe-tapping yet elegantly-turned ‘Ciaccona’ by Maurizio Cazzati, which served to introduce each musician by turn, the programme segued seamlessly between recitative-like incantations (both sung and played), traditional songs, improvisations and sprightly dances. Led by Ms Pluhar, the performers played with great poise and precision, combined with all the intuition and flexibility of a jazz line-up; indeed, some of the solos by percussionist David Mayoral and bass player Boris Schmidt were redolent of a rhythm section, while the ground bass in the theorbo provided the framework for sparkling variations and musical flights of fancy, a favourite compositional device in Baroque music, which also forms the basis of much jazz improvisation. And by performing the music in distinct ‘sets’, the musicians created a wonderful and infectious intimacy, more akin to jazz club than concert hall. There were times during the improvisations when one felt the entire audience might rise and join in the dance on the stage: in fact, during the encore, ‘Pizzicarella Mia’, Ms Vega darted nimbly off the stage, plucked a woman from the audience and urged her on with much exuberant skirt-twirling and hip-shimmying, to the accompaniment of whoops, whistles and applause.
All this and more, with exotic cascades of castanets and tambourines, earthy syncopated drums, shimmering lute and psaltery, and the haunting notes of the cornetto, all set over a limber walking bass. This was a captivating and uplifting Proms debut by L’Arpeggiata, and a thrilling testament to the magic of music.