L’Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar – Music For a While – Improvisations on Purcell
(Erato/Warner Classics 08256 463375 07. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
Baroque music often has elements of improvisation, but in the 14-piece group L’Arpeggiata’s new CD, director and arranger Christina Pluhar, born in Graz in Austria, and based in Paris, who founded the group in 2000, has brought jazz into the mix alongside baroque instruments with winsome names like theorbo, cornet à bouquin and archlute, with the presence of Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel (they went to school together) and Italian clarinettist Gianluigi Trovesi.
Pluhar’s aim is to be ‘..constantly moving between the centuries in the harmonies and styles of the improvisations…’. Although the music was written in the late 1600s, a progression like the descending bass line of When I am laid in earth could have been written for jazz and there are many moments when you could be listening to an ECM jazz recording.
Wondrous machine, with alto Vincenzo Capezzuto’s light, expressive voice, has a wondrous groove. Quivering African-influenced percussion starts alongside trilling clarinet; guitar and piano improvise together over energetic bass lines. Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky brings grace to everything he sings- those long, pure notes with their miraculous crescendos. His phrasing is languorous but always precise, floating on the walking bass and gently swung brushes; the juxtaposition of classical singing and jazz instrumental styles is strikingly original. Trovesi’s jazz clarinet solo wraps itself beautifully around the voice. Here the deities approve opens conventionally, with trailing piano lines (Francesco Turrisi) behind Jarroussky. A Cuban groove emerges behind Muthspiel’s guitar solo. An Evening Hymn Upon a Ground starts with exquisite jazz-edged solo guitar, Jaroussky’s sensuous voice melting into the jazz piano and guitar solos.
Raquel Andueza sings in the same register as the male singers, but with a folkier edge to the voice. Alfred Deller’s 60s version of Strike the viol runs through my head, highlighting the way Andueza phrases freely behind the beat in this version. There’s a kind of 17th Century New Orleans carefree collective improvisation, the clarinet riffing along with Muthspiel’s guitar, with cornet arpeggios and dramatic percussion; Francesco Turrisi’s organ could almost be Brian Auger. Andueza sings the melody of When I am laid in earth with poise as Jarrett-esque piano trades fours with Muthspiel. Her Ah! Belinda and A prince of glorious race descended have subtle jazz elements, with piano fills between vocal lines and a Muthspiel outro of great beauty in the latter.
Some pieces blur Early Music and folk. The lively One charming night (just a hint of reggae) and ‘Twas within a furlong are sung with verve by Capezzuto. The latter, a ballad of love and marriage, has a country swing, shuffly percussion and a melodica. Dominique Visse treats Man is for the woman made almost like a comic patter song. The instrumental Curtain Tune on a Ground has robust but subtle percussion, and sounds like a folk dance.
Other pieces are performed in Early Music style, highlights being counterpointed duets between Jaroussky and Capezzuto in In vain the am’rous flute, and Jaroussky and Andueza inHark how the songsters of the grove. Veronika Skuplik’s baroque violin heightens the melancholy of Andueza’s voice in O let me weep. The ensemble playing is so good that you don’t want to focus on individual instruments, as in O Solitude where Jaroussky’s voice rests on a cushion of harps and lutes.
Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered Hallelujah, the ‘bonus track’, is an unexpected conclusion to the album, but I’m sure it goes down a storm as a gig encore.
‘Our listeners find themselves in a timeless music room,’ says Pluhar. The experience of hearing the 17th and 21st centuries (and probably a few in between) in the same songs is a thrilling one. L’Arpeggiata play with such finesse and zeal, that ‘Music for a while/ shall all your cares beguile’.
Christina Pluhar- director, theorbo
Doron Sherwin- cornet à bouquin
Veronika Skuplik- baroque violin
Julien Martin, Marine Sablonnière- recorder
Eero Palviainen- archlute, baroque guitar
Marcello Vitale- baroque guitar, chitarra battente
Sarah Ridy- baroque harp
David Mayoral, Sergey Saprichev, Michèle Claude- percussion
Boris Schmidt- double bass
Haru Kitamika- harpsichord, organ
Francesco Turrisi- piano, harpsichord, organ, melodica
Gianluigi Trovesi- clarinet
Wolfgang Muthspiel- acoustic guitar & electric guitar
Philippe Jaroussky- countertenor
Raquel Andueza- soprano
Vincenzo Capezzuto- alto
Dominique Visse- countertenor