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<<  -- 3 --  Rex Harley    MUTUAL ENTHUSIASM

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Their performance space is the upper room. On one long wall is an imposing fireplace, and the chairs are arranged in three, shallow curving rows facing it. Gradually, the room fills, and by the time the musicians make their entrance, nearly all the chairs are occupied. This is, in itself, a positive start because, in the nature of these things, no-one could predict in advance if they'd be playing to fifty people, or only five. Their theme for the evening is 'The Italian Job', and the music spans two hundred and fifty years, from the late sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century. There are the well-known composers -- Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Vivaldi -- and more obscure, such as Rossi, Caccini, Albertino and Castello.

Phoenix Rising. From the left: Joakim Olsson Kruse, harpsichord; Emma Alter, violin; Ingrid Viñals, baroque cello; Sarah Saunders, recorder and baroque oboe; Sophia Brumfitt, guest vocalist
Phoenix Rising. From the left: Joakim Olsson Kruse, harpsichord; Emma Alter, violin; Ingrid Viñals, baroque cello; Sarah Saunders, recorder and baroque oboe; Sophia Brumfitt, guest vocalist

The first, Monteverdi's La Musica gets things off to a rousing start. Sitting so close to the musicians, one can observe not only the handling of their instruments but every nuance of facial expression, and when they are enthusiastically applauded it is touching to see the genuine delight in their small side-ways glances to each other. Thus encouraged, they relax into their programme, which has been carefully chosen to show their ensemble playing and also to highlight their individual talents. So we are able to appreciate the flexibility and dexterity, the lightness of touch of Sarah's recorder playing; the nimble, bright flourishes of Joakim's harpsichord, and his subtle accompanying; Emma's beautifully rich violin tone, and an almost gypsy earthiness in places; and Ingrid's totally firm, precise cello. As they leave the stage the applause follows them and does not end till they are well out of sight downstairs.

The second half begins with a chance to hear Sarah's other instrument -- the Baroque oboe -- in the Sonata for Oboe and obligato cello by the little-known Giovanni Platti. What most of the audience do not know is that Sarah has been grappling with a troublesome reed. Bearing in mind that that the baroque oboe is a difficult animal to control at the best of times, this is rather like watching a tight-rope walker perform without a safety net and blindfolded. And, similarly, when she pulls it off with great skill, it's even more impressive to those who were aware of the double difficulty of the task. There is a peculiarly haunting quality to the sound, and the rapport between oboist and cellist testifies to the time they have spent working together. Which takes us to Vivaldi's famous version of La Folia, thrillingly played, and giving us all the chance to appreciate Ingrid's formidable technique -- accuracy and intonation perfectly unscathed, even in the fastest passages.

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Copyright © 8 November 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK

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