Review, The Four Seasons, La Serenissima, Ipswich School Festival of Music, October 2

La Serenissima, who opened this year's Ipswich School Festival of Music. Photo: Benjamin Harte

La Serenissima, who opened this year's Ipswich School Festival of Music. Photo: Benjamin Harte - Credit: Archant

Ipswich School’s fifth annual Festival of Music opened with a concert devoted entirely to the music of Vivaldi performed by players from the ensemble La Serenissima.

Founded in 1994 by their current director, Adrian Chandler, the group has won high praise for its CD releases and dynamic performances.

Fortune did not smile on the performers and, in addition to a couple of broken strings, the soprano soloist fell ill before the performance and was unable to sing the planned motet.

However, with consummate professionalism and humour, such challenges were smoothly surmounted and a substantial and appreciative audience enjoyed music making of high energy and technical finesse.

In Vivaldi’s extensive output it is sometimes easy to overlook his skill and originality and the performances frequently pointed up his contrapuntal expertise, effective use of contrasting tempi and especially the sheer energy and drive of much of his music.

The opening work, a concerto for strings without soloists and written to replace parts of the liturgy in church services, was crisply delivered with sharply defined lines in the fugal finale. The Concerto for the Feast of St Lawrence contains many imaginative touches and soloist Chandler made the most of his part.

In place of the Motet there was a Concerto Madrigalesque - thought to be derived from the Kyrie and Gloria of another work – and another violin concerto, probably written for church use.

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The instrumentalists, using gut strings and period bows, played with exceptional unanimity and poise and there were elegant contributions from the theorbo and keyboard.

It must be something of a challenge for any group to maintain a sense of freshness and adventure in a work as widely known and performed as The Four Seasons, but this is exactly what happened.

There was an intensity - almost a fervour – about the playing and a demonic swirl in the faster passages. The cold bleakness of autumn and winter was perfectly captured and seemed to lower the temperature of the Great School. Chandler played with accuracy and elan throughout, aided by some telling interjections from the viola.

This was anything but another Four Seasons. It was gripping in its commitment and insight and the enthusiastic reception was thoroughly deserved.

Gareth Jones

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