A Friday morning in a small Dorset market town was not perhaps the most obvious precursor to a concert of rarely-heard Baroque gems, nor indeed are the violin, theorbo and viola da gamba perhaps a widely heard trio of instruments, but both aspects came together in this beautifully balanced and well-thought out programme from Repicco and Friends.

The concert was part of the 11th season of “Concerts in the West” – a four-concert tour of venues in the West Country with the dual purpose firstly of promoting young musicians establishing either themselves or, for the more experienced, an opportunity to tour new repertoire, and secondly of bringing high quality music and talented musicians to West Country areas where access to either is seldom easy. The Patron is Laurence Cummings, so it may not be a coincidence that Repicco and Friends arrived in Dorset fresh from concerts at the Göttingen International Festival, where they are one of the “emerging” ensembles. 

All the works had links to composers connected to the Accademia degli Arcadi in Rome but there were a number of changes to the original programme, and although Kinga announced the works I’m afraid I didn’t always catch their full details. The reason for the revised programme was the unexpected but welcome addition of mezzo soprano Ciara Hendrick. She had sung with Repicco in Göttingen and was due to sing at the remainder of the “Concerts in the West” tour, but not at this Bridport concert. She is an experienced Handel singer, and her clear, smooth mezzo was well suited to the eloquent phrasing of Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle, one of the Nine German Arias. But for me, the highlight of her performance was two songs by Alessandro Stradella. She mentioned that she had never heard of Stradella before being introduced to him by Repicco (neither had most of us in the audience, I suspect, nor indeed Marini or Lonati) and described the first song as from someone who is wretched about the end of an affair, but not that wretched – and that is exactly how it came over, thanks to her perfectly judged sense of the dramatic, without exaggeration but allowing the expressiveness of her voice to explain the meaning to the audience. It was followed by a brief but utterly charming love song.

Stradella had what could be politely described as a colourful life, combining his extensive and highly successful musical career with embezzlement, love affairs and infidelity, stabbed to death in 1682 by a hired killer, having survived another murder attempt a year earlier. His eventful life was turned into an opera in the 19th century, though with a happier ending. Although less than well known today, Stradella was an influential composer, and is recognised now as the originator of the concerto grosso. A contemporary of Corelli, he was also an influence on Alessandro Scarlatti and signs of Stradella’s work are thought to be evident in Handel’s Israel in Egypt oratorio. The cantatas are particularly suited to adaption for Repicco’s programme, being written for strings and basso continuo. Hungarian Kinga Ujszászi has played with many of the leading early music orchestras and her eloquent violin made a firm case for Stradella’s work to become much more widely known and appreciated.

In lieu of the programmed Kapsberger, Jadran Duncumb played for us the Caprice de chaconne in C Major by Francesco Corbetta, a long and beautiful chaconne for the baroque guitar. Its beguiling delicacy belies deeply textured plucked sections, interwoven with rhythmic strummed interludes. The concert ended with Corelli’s well known variations La Follia – including delightful interludes of improvisation played with liveliness and wit, with the brilliant flashes of exuberance from Ujszászi’s violin matched in reply perfectly by André Lislevand’s gamba. It was an uplifting end to an hour full of surprises, played with commitment and flair by a most engaging trio.

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