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BWW Review: FANDANGO at St John's Church, Halifax Street

Ensemble Galante plays Boccherini

BWW Review: FANDANGO at St John's Church, Halifax Street Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Friday 16th April 2021.

"Come on Bocchers write me a quintet". So spake Simon Martyn-Ellis on the genesis of the work which gave the concert its name, the Guitar Quintet in D major G 448, known as the Boccherini Fandango, Ensemble Galante invited him and violin/viola player Karina Schmitz to come across and join them for a concert of Spanish-influenced music with guitar. I'd already planned to go to both performances but had I only attended the Friday I'd have been satisfied greatly by the music. As it is I went back again. I'd taken a good look at the housework and decided that good look was all it was going to get.

The program began and ended with the music of the Italian composer who spent much of his life in Spain, but also introduced the music of two earlier Italian composers, Giovanni Battista Granata and Andrea Falconieri.

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) was a virtuoso 'cellist, and there is a famous portrait of him, dapper in dress, with an amazing bow tie (bow ties are cool), grasping his 'cello between his legs, the spike being a later addition. His Quintet in G minor for Flute and Strings Op.19/2 G426 was a gracious work showcasing Tim Nott's delicate solo work. Its two movements were expressed beautifully, and I believe that where music is concerned, being beautiful is an adequate reason for existence.

The sonata for guitar, violin, and basso continuo by Giovanni Battista Granata (1620-1687), possibly the only piece for this combination available today, teamed Martyn-Ellis with Ben Dollman, violin, Tom Marlin, 'cello, and Glenys March, harpsichord, provided the continuo accompaniment. How much music for this partnership must have been written, and what may still be found in a library somewhere? The Andrea Falconieri (1585-1656) was a real treasure, opening with a translucent duet for flute and guitar and exploring various dance rhythms, including a Folias for Senora Dona Tarolilla de Carallenos. The ensemble was boosted by Anna Webb, violin, and Karina Schmitz, viola. Again, an almost unknown piece by an equally unknown composer that displayed craft, imagination, and style, just like the ensemble performing it.

Then came the Fandango, that sexy Spanish dance of postures and promises, one of a series written for a guitar-playing patron, glowing with Iberian sunlight. There are other fandangos, notably one by Soler, that this ensemble could perform, but the Boccherini is probably the best known.

Martyn-Ellis explained that Boccherini must have been busy, because he bolted together movements from two other quintets, and substituted the second 'cello with a guitar. On the second occasion, he admitted that, while the guitar had given the quintet its identity, it was the 'cello that was the star of the piece, and Tom Marlin's deft delivery of glissandi and harmonics was delightful. The only element missing, which would have completely sealed its Spanish identity, was castanets. Marlin tapped out the rhythm on the body of his instrument, being the only musician with free hands at that point. There had been rumours that the 'cellist had sourced castanets for the Saturday afternoon, but it was not to be. Nothing compromises the fact this was a Festival standard concert, light-hearted, graceful and, in the fandango, energetic and open-hearted.

St John's Church, in Halifax Street, is much in demand as a venue for chamber groups and small choirs. It's a warm acoustic but even the quietest sounds of Martyn-Ellis' guitar could be heard clearly at the back of the venue. I sat closer the second time just to watch the guitarist's hands.


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