Writer Reece Greenfield / Photographer Connor Pope
On Wednesday 15 June, I had the pleasure of attending ‘Stylus Phantasticus’ a night of 17th century music presented by Musica d’Outrora, a three piece chamber ensemble made up of Christi Park (baroque violin), Timothy Lin (viol) and Pablo Devigo (harpsichord and organ).
I enter the high-ceilinged Organ Studio and am immediately struck by the immaculateness of the environment. Two beautiful harpsichords stand before me along with Lin’s viol (named Felicity) who waits patiently. The organ to my right spanning the height of the room, a replica of 17th century German design, displays decorative cherubs carved into its wood accompanied by impressive gleaming pipes.
The musicians enter the room dressed to match the surroundings and kick things off with a sonata for organ and violin, a hopeful and optimistic array of sound reaches our ears as the sun through the windows illuminates the wooden instruments. The violin trills and sings playfully atop the robust foundation of the organ accompaniment, slowly ramping up then releasing into relaxing serenity, up and then down in waves of colour.
Next a solo harpsichord piece begins after a brief but not entirely unmusical interjection by a creaky door hinge. Devigo adeptly displays his abilities in capturing the musical caprice of the piece; his fingers effortlessly transforming the notes from pensiveness to frivolity but never straying too far from the warm embrace of the major resolution.
Thereafter all three musicians take up the stage weaving a rich tapestry in perfect coordination with the violin following just behind each turnaround. It was at this moment that I was struck by how truly well-rehearsed the ensemble sounded. It was as if the music facilitated a kind of telepathy enabling effortless rubato and impeccable musical chemistry.
The next piece hearkens back somewhat further into Baroque music’s roots featuring a danceable galloping rhythm which slows down in the second phase, enabling a rich background to the conversation between viol and violin. A conversation that, if held between two people, you’d assume they were lovers.
Now it was Lin’s time to shine. After a brief introduction he sits down with his viol, along with Pablo’s harpsichord accompaniment, and begins to dazzle the audience with acrobatic sheets of sound. His fingers are a blur as he works his way with undeniable grace through this difficult piece. Each turnaround is punctuated by a conductive, collective inhale momentarily pulling the listener out of the fantasy into familiar human territories.
The penultimate piece, ‘Sonata XII’ by Ignazio Albertini, holds a special place in Park’s heart and the wonder she felt in first discovering this rarity is transferred to the audience through her loquacious and emotive playing. This, for me, was the zenith of the performance as not only did the ensemble play their hearts out, but the piece itself was rich with narrative enabling a variety of moods and textures swooping in between realms of joyous pride and contemplative introspection.
The final piece of the evening is by far the most progressive and forward thinking. I can’t help but think that Musica d’Outrora are showing us glimpses of the future, hinting at what would later appear in classical and romantic music. We’re all well and truly stolen away on an epic journey in only eight minutes.
After rapturous applause that belies the small size of the crowd, they return to the stage with Park boldly saying: “We lied! We have one more for you”. They then go on to play a piece that aptly tied the whole evening together in a neat bow, displaying pulsating tempo and dynamics, and energetic violin interjected by plush harmony from the other instruments.
After the piece finishes, beaming smiles arise on the faces of the ensemble and then the audience, matching the streams of light still beaming through the window. I realise what Park meant when earlier in the performance she had explained the meaning of ‘Stylus Phantasticus’.
“It’s a translation of ‘The Art of Fantasy’.” Quite so, and Musica d’Outrora are its artisans.
Birmingham’s Royal Conservatoire frequently hosts events in their auditoria. Show your support for Brum’s blooming jazz and classical music scene and check out their events here: www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar