By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(TORONTO, ON) – There are countless classical music stations in Ontario. They play it safe with the big names, most of the time; Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Schubert, and the endless pounding of piano keys by Glenn Gould. I suppose you can say it is the big hit parade of classical music, over and over, like a top forty station.
Frequent listening leads to annoyance.
No one can accuse the Scaramella ensemble of hiding behind the stars. They don’t play the big hits and are celebrating their 10th season. The crowd is relatively small, at just a few hundred, but one senses the audience knows their classical music. They look very serious and intent.
On December 6, Scaramella presented Lawes Unto Himself. Thank goodness that someone cares enough about William Lawes to present two hours of his music.
Lawes was an English composer, born in 1602 in Salisbury, England. He had a short life, killed during the Siege of Chester in 1645. In 1635, he gained a prestigious post amongst the elite private musicians of King Charles I.
This was no easy two hour performance. There was no toe tapping rhythm or any hint of light-heartedness.
If any music can be said to be sad and sorrowful and terribly introspective it certainly must be the music of William Lawes. In terms of style, I can only say severe, disciplined, metered to precision, and very stern. Played to technical perfection by Scaramella.
All said and done, Lawes’ music lacks a soul. It just seems so sorrowful yet technically flawless.
After the intermission, one is seductively drawn into the beauty of the sorrow, but only for fleeting moments. This is not dead music when one observes the body language and movement of the performers. Simply watching the ensemble, as opposed to listening, shreds my thesis that Lawes was one sorry bastard.
Each of the musicians had a chance to express their individual talents.
Joëlle Morton appeared to be the anchor of the group on viola da gamba, and Paul Zevenhuizen had his soaring moments on baroque violin.
Julia Seager Scott had her tender moments on triple harp, while Madeline Owen certainly tried her best to give some positive vibrations to Lawes on theorbo and baroque guitar.
This was a tough two hours, but a rewarding one due to the intense Lawes’ experience. We really do need to support and appreciate Scaramella in their mission to expose us to period music.
There is more than Top 40 to classical music. Scaramella is courageous indeed.