sun 21/07/2024

El Gran Teatro del Mundo, St John's Smith Square review - a diverting tour of an unusual musical form | reviews, news & interviews

El Gran Teatro del Mundo, St John's Smith Square review - a diverting tour of an unusual musical form

El Gran Teatro del Mundo, St John's Smith Square review - a diverting tour of an unusual musical form

This 'Conversation' was almost like watching a murmuration of birds

El Gran Teatro Del Mundo in rehearsal

In some ways the concerto da camera was the 18th-century music equivalent of the hatchback – only slightly larger in scale than a basic chamber work but with an ambition that allowed it to carry ideas associated with more substantial structures.

At St John’s Smith Square, the dynamic ensemble El Gran Teatro del Mundo gave a diverting tour of this distinctive form, titled "The Art of Conversation", taking us from Germany down to the Mediterranean through Italy and Spain before circling back to Germany again.

Telemann was the underlying link, and the concert began with a Sonata in B flat major by a young associate of his, Johann Friedrich Fasch, a composer who was widely performed in his own lifetime but not published till after his death. The opening Largo was an elegant relay race. After the soaring introductory theme from Michael Form on the recorder and Miriam Jorde on the oboe, Claudio Rado’s violin picked up the melody as the woodwind took on the accompaniment until the pattern was deftly reversed.

As throughout the concert, the complex interplay of themes between instruments was underscored by this ensemble’s raw sensitivity, adding to the sense of emotional as well as physical agility. At points it was almost like watching a murmuration of birds – physically the performers often seemed to move as one, yet within that movement there were subtle shifts in direction and changes of pattern that made their progress endlessly fascinating.

After the to-ing and fro-ing of the Fasch – which culminated in an Allegro where woodwind and strings mirrored each other in vertiginous, cascading passages – the ensemble moved to Vivaldi’s Trio for lute, violin and continuo in G minor. Amid Vivaldi’s prolific output there are just four works featuring the solo lute. Jonas Nordberg gave a hypnotic performance, with spidery subtle melodies that were answered by the more lyrical retorts of the violin. Yet though the performances were beguiling, structurally this felt like one of Vivaldi’s more formulaic pieces of work, far more interesting for its instrumentation than any other aspect. The Josep Pla concerto da camera in D major proved an opportunity to showcase the skills of Miriam Jorde on the oboe, opening with a fluent Allegro in which she thrillingly built tension through speed and repetition of the themes. It would have been all too easy to let this virtuosic first movement run away with itself, yet throughout there was a real sense of control and togetherness. The point of the concerto da camera is that no one instrument stars, and in the Largo, Rado’s violin playing really took off as he echoed and amplified Jorde’s lyricism. As a demonstration of The Art of Conversation it was in the last movement that the sense of lively chatter really broke through with its racing parallel passages and deftly deployed ornamentation.

Throughout, Julio Caballero – the harpsichordist and artistic director – along with Bruno Hurtado on the cello, provided a supple and dynamic framework, with Caballero’s own virtuoso capabilities being given free rein in the Telemann. Yet if there was a star of the evening – and yes, that’s not the point of the concerto da camera – it was Michael Form on the recorder(s). Whether it was in the honeysweet lyricism of his sustained notes, the fast-as-lightning fingerwork in more virtuoso passages, or simply his sense of effortless give and take in the ensemble work, his performance stood out. Since he did not appear in every number it was also notable that when he did it lifted the entire ensemble’s game; while without him it played skilfully and intelligently, his presence seemed simultaneously to anchor and liberate the musicians’ expressive range.

Different performances aside, this was an intriguing glance at a lesser-known musical form, which unearthed some gems of the repertoire. Though as Caballero himself ended up declaring, “Telemann is the best”. The ensemble finished with the German’s Concerto da camera in A minor, a work which was more satisfyingly structurally complex than those preceding it and in which the Adagio seemed to have echoes of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. The vigorous joyful Vivace felt like a fittingly vibrant finish to an evening that was as intelligent as it was uplifting.

The complex interplay of themes between instruments was underscored by this ensemble’s raw sensitivity


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters