That’s the way it felt listening to Matthias Maute at Christ Church Cathedral Friday night
German-born Maute is a recorder virtuoso. He is also a composer/conductor and artistic director of Ensemble Caprice in Montreal.
Maute’s performance for Catacoustic Consort kicked off Cincinnati’s first Early Music Festival. A hardy crowd braved the frigid weather to hear music of the 17th and 18th centuries as few have heard it before.
It was a generous program, 11 works in all, dating from the early baroque to Georg Philip Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi. Maute was joined by Annalisa Pappano on viola da gamba, David Walker on theorbo (a bass lute) and Elizabeth Motter on baroque triple strung harp. They performed in the transept of the Cathedral and the sound was glorious (though a platform would have afforded better sight lines, since watching the players was part of the fun).
Maute, Pappano and Walker opened with a pair of sonatas by 17th-century Italian Pandolfo Mealli, “La Vinciolino” and “La Bernabea” (both published in 1660). They made a delightful contrast, the first tinged with sorrow, the second a kind of steeplechase, with a super-fast ending. Maute’s command of the instrument was mind-blowing (“smoking,” commented Pappano in pre-concert remarks). There seemed nothing he could not do, executing trills, “vibrato,” runs and all manner of ornamentation to dizzying effect. His control of dynamics was remarkable, too, as he was able to play louder or softer with no variation in pitch. In short, his technical prowess was put to the service of true artistry.
Pappano took the spotlight in “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut,” a touching chorale and variations for viola da gamba by August Kühnel (1645-c.1700), dating from 1698. This lovely work, with harpist Motter joining Walker on basso continuo, also gave Maute a moment of respite.
He re-joined the ensemble in “Engels Nachtegaeltje” by the blind Dutch composer Jacob van Eyck (c.1590-1657). This was one of the highlights of the program, with Maute singing every bit as sweetly as the “English Nightingale” of the title and conjuring the image of birds conversing and ending with two soft “tweets” (try to fit that into 150 characters).
Maute enhanced the program with comments on the composers and the music. He referred to the discovery in 2008 of an ancient bone flute in archeological digs in Germany, evidence that humans were making music on recorder-like instruments 35,000 years ago.
Also a composer, Maute performed his own “Canzona detta la Rondella” with Pappano and Walker, a thoroughly charming piece in period baroque style. This was followed by Viennese composer Johann Schmelzer’s “Sonata quarta” from 1664. Here, Maute noted the composer’s departure from the work’s strict chaconne structure (variations on a repeated harmonic pattern) to indulge in more rhapsodic moments.
The first half ended with Italian master Archangelo Corelli’s five-movement Sonata Op. 5, No. 10 in F Major (1700). Here, again, Maute demonstrated incredible facility and control.
The second half visited more familiar names, including Telemann, Vivaldi and Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1653-1745). Vitali is primarily known today for his Chaconne, a favorite of violin and viola virtuosi (among others), though its authorship is open to question. (Maute noted that the Chaconne visits 20 of the 24 keys in the major-minor scale, a perhaps unlikely exercise for Vitali.) Maute’s performance on the recorder was phenomenal (Jascha Heifetz himself would have been impressed). A Trio Sonata in D minor by Telemann received the same treatment, with lots of skillful dialogue between Maute and Pappano, now on treble viol, nimbly performed in her lap, with Walker on theorbo.
Walker took a solo turn in a song by lutenist/poet Belerofonte Castaldi (c.1581-1649) entitled “Lusinghevole passeggio.” The effect was spellbinding, leaving the listener wishing for more. The “more” was Vivaldi -- or maybe not, as French composer Nicolas Chédeville published a set of sonatas in 1737 under Vivaldi’s name, borrowing from the Italian master here and there. Still, said Maute, “this piece,” i.e. Sonata RV 59 for flute and basso continuo, “is as Italian as they come.” It did, in fact, richly reward the listener, whether Vivaldi or not, from the serious Largo to the loveable Pastorale and the let-er-rip finale. Maute encored on transverse recorder with “Oi dortn,” a traditional Jewish melody “about two broken hearts,” with Motter accompanying on harp.
For details about the Cincinnati Early Music Festival, see http://www.catacoustic.blogspot.com/