Under the label “Bach +”, this year’s Bach week is dedicated to the memory of the 254th anniversary of the composer’s death in Heidelberg. As its title Flow my tears suggests, the concert contrasted works by J.S.Bach with those of his English and Italian contemporaries: John Dowland, John Stanley, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Antonio Caldara and Antonio Vivaldi. The Ensemble Riverberi, from Milan (the name means “reverberation” or “echo”) was notable this evening both for the choice of works played in the programme and not least by impressing the audience with the way they incorporated the room and its sound into their performance.

The evening started with John Dowland’s “Flow, my tears”, a love song setting from his dance suite “Lachrimae”. The song bemoans the situation of humanity exiled from paradise. As with all the works this evening, this was arranged by ensemble member Pietro Tagliaferri for the unusual lineup of countertenor, soprano saxophone, organ and cello. Especially prominent was the opening descending line, filled with lament and weeping, in which Dowland was perhaps inspired by Orlando di Lassus and Luca Marenzio. This arrangement hit home in the high register, with the warm, clear voice of Giovanni Duci, especially when allied with the soprano saxophone to give a unique tone rich in meaning. Unfortunately, intelligibility of the text suffered in the vast space of the Heiliggeistkirche.

Johann Sebastian Bach © Elias Gottlob Haussmann
Johann Sebastian Bach
© Elias Gottlob Haussmann
Given the occasion, this evening’s programme especially featured works by Johann Sebastian Bach, including an organ fantasy and arias from his cantatas, masses, the St Matthew Passion as well as the Christmas Oratorio. The Ensemble Riverberi were paricularly impressive in the aria “Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust” (Delightful rest, beloved pleasure of the soul) from the Cantata, BWV170. The musicians astonished the audience with the use of space in their playing. Organ and saxophone begun in low register, to be joined by a dancing melody in the cello which exemplified both the elation and the subtlety in the musicians’ playing. The audience then heard the unexpected sound of Giovanni Duci’s voice from behind them; in the course of the work, Duci moved gradually forwards to return to his place on the stage. This use of the space allowed the audience to experience the wonderful effect of the singing voice and the saxophone or organ imitating each other. The interplay of the sounds, which altered with the distance of the singer from the ensemble, and the interesting reverberation effects of the hall, which were especially prominent in these imitative passages, contributed to a special sonic experience. The very young audience rewarded this unusually created work with long and sustained applause.

Cellist Fabio Guidolin, who was generally accompanying the other members of the ensemble, received his chance to shine with Antonio Caldara’s Sonata for cello and basso continuo, a work known for its virtuosity. Guidolin enthralled us with a clear, soft, sensual tone in the stately, deep melodies of both slow movements. The ensemble joined him in the middle section of the Grave, with a vocalisation from the countertenor. Duci sung this from the ranks of the audience, producing a sound undoubtedly not envisaged by the composer, but an iridescent timbre, coupled with an impressive spacious effect. In the faster movements of the Sonata, Guidolin was less impressive, showing little dynamic range and with occasional intonation errors in the higher register. Overall, however, it was a successful performance, appreciated by the audience.

The Ensemble Riverberi enthralled its audience with this concert, as many-faceted as it was unusual, and were able to astonish once more with a thunderous encore. The musicians sent the audience off with a work improvised by soprano saxophonist Pietro Tagliaferri on “Amazing Grace”. Tagliaferri shone with his improvisation in the highest register of his instrument, and once again created some unique effects by moving around the nave of the church. This was then mixed in the sound of organ, cello and voice to produce an extraordinary yet beautiful ensemble sound. The result was an impressive interpretation of this famous English hymn, which the audience rewarded with long applause.

This evening’s concert was a thrilling experience, especially impressive for the unusual composition and variety of the programme. While there were minor technical or interpretative problems, the Ensemble were able to use spatial effects to produce an artistic impression that was very fine overall. With this innovative take on the baroque, the Ensemble Riverberi enthused their unusually young audience.

Translated from German by David Karlin