L'Arpeggiata is an exciting early music ensemble of extraordinary musicians and extraordinary ideas. In collaboration with artists from all over the world, each programme opens up whole new worlds of music and connects the originals with modern influences like no other. For the collaboration with Belgian soprano Céline Scheen, Italian dancer and here singer Vincenzo Capezzuto and jazz clarinettist Gianluigi Trovesi, creative mastermind Christina Pluhar has devised yet another new take on a Baroque classic, Henry Purcell.

L'Arpeggiata mit Vincenzo Capezzuto, Céline Scheen and Gianluigi Trovesi © studio visuell photography
L'Arpeggiata mit Vincenzo Capezzuto, Céline Scheen and Gianluigi Trovesi
© studio visuell photography

"Music for a while" combines Purcell's original compositions with jazzy improvisational elements in the ensemble's trademark style that merges excellent musicianship with an open, often humorous view at the works. Beginning and interspersed occasionally with an instrumental piece, this round trip through Purcell's various stage works promised to be a very entertaining one, and from the first bars of Maurizio Cazzati's opening Ciaccona, the musicians radiated delight in playing that even a stuck key in the portable organ (that required two of them to try to fix it) could not dampen.

Having heard recordings of the ensemble with the stellar Philippe Jaroussky, I was curious about the vocal contributions for this year's performence during the Heidelberg Spring Festival and immediately fell for Céline Scheen's precise pianos in which she introduced the title song. Her voice at times sounded very throaty when she opened up, and despite the fact that she could easily fill the hall with her silvery high notes without amplification, her consonants often didn't travel further than the edge of the stage. The way she delivered her songs, however, made you forget about that.

Ah! Belinda already gave us a taste of the emotional intensity she could imbue a song with, but her performance of Dido's Lament was absolutely breathtaking. Working with subtle dynamic nuances and colours, her first "Remember me" in a warm, velvety sotto voce conveyed as much despair and pain (wo)man can possibly bear. It was as if you could feel the music directly reach out for your soul and grab hold of your innermost feelings. It was followed by a second, strong "Remember me" like an outcry, a last attempt to fight against fate. Unlike many other songs that blended from on into another, When I am laid in earth was allowed to stand on its own, which was important and necessary. It took many, deeply touching seconds for the first person to even dare to move in their seat.

The male partner was Vincenzo Capezzuto, and while his facial expressions and gestures often had an uncanny resemblance of Jaroussky's, his voice is higher, yes, incredibly high, clear and youthful. His range appeared limited, yet his spirited performances made you forgive the odd pressed tone and lax articulation. He flirted heavily with the clarinet when he entered the stage, delivered an amusing T'was within a furlong of Edinborough Town that had our toes tapping and a Man is for woman made that appeared to wink at the listener with every line.

Cèline Scheen, with Christina Pluhar, Haru Kitamika and Eero Palviainen © studio visuell photography
Cèline Scheen, with Christina Pluhar, Haru Kitamika and Eero Palviainen
© studio visuell photography
It was a concert in which one highlight chased another. Thinking about it now makes the goosebumps rise and my knees go weak again as it happened during and after the performance, and the frame of this review cannot hold all the exciting things this concert offered. I could go on for page after page about the instinctiveness with which the arrangements oscillated between Early and Jazz, merged harmonies old and new, how Renaissance suddenly went Cha-Cha and Blues, how the improvised parts grew naturally out of the set piece. How Boris Schmidt on double bass played with his whole body, lovingly dancing with his instrument, duelling the at times piercing but superbly played clarinet, whose sudden outburst in Strike the viol resulted in many surprised faces both off and on stage. About the extended, fascinating percussion solo, and above all about how the musicians radiated mere joy of playing. They communicated, then sat back and listened, intrigued, to their fellows' improvisations, and it was obvious that they simply had a great deal of fun.

So did this listener. Hark! how the songsters of the grove from Orpheus Britannicus was the last song on the programme and the beginning of a stunning finale of a night that could not end without encores, which again awaited with surprises. Where the simple act of playing and singing music was fascinating to watch, the encores were real showstoppers. The singers danced, Capezzuto got to show off his professional dancing skills, cornettist Doron Sherwin threw in a little bit of rap with cap and sunglasses: "We like our Handel with a little back beat." L'Arpeggiata said their final good-byes with Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah that again was so stunningly beautiful that there were tears in many eyes.

I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed this concert. You had to experience it for yourself.