Early Music Festival Utrecht 2015 part 10: Gradus ad Parnassum

Fringe concert: Gradus ad Parnassum in London Moods

No idea why some ensembles are part of the fabulous fringe group and others are performing in the ordinary fringe group. Hardly two days into the fringe performances of this year’s Early Music Festival and I was wondering about things. The bafflement would only increase during this concert.

For Gradus ad Parnassum would deliver – and how! This was not just any fringe concert. This ensemble outclassed many a fabulous fringe concert heard during the past few days and preceding years. They were more impressive than Vox Luminis, the festival’s artists in residence, in their Queen Mary concert. Not in the “King Arthur” one, as that remains an unforgettable experience. But: Gradus ad Parnassum’s concert was outstanding.

After Graddus ad Parnassum finished, the public erupted the way it had after “King Arthur”. A standing ovation, whistles, cat calls – it only grew quiet again when the musicians filed back and gave an encore. Then the standing ovation started all over again.

But before all this happened, the ensemble took to the stage in a large church along one of Utrecht’s beautiful canals. The church was packed to overflowing. It was warm and would become warmer during the performance. In fact, Justyna Skatulnik actually took her jacket off at some moment.

Henry Purcell’s “The Golden Sonata” Z 810 started off the concert. Just as well there was a break between the Adagio and Canzona, for someone had forgotten to put out a mobile phone. Just as well most of the audience was stuck in church pews, for that someone ran the risk of being strung up high or booted out of the church. But as this particular church was packed to overflowing … The Adagio already set the pace and impact of this performance: perfect execution of music, excellent interaction between musicians, brilliant interpretations, moods and feelings of the pieces expressed beautifully.

After Henry Purcell’s sonata – and no more mobile phone intrusions – there was William Byrd’s Fantasia in G. A solo for mr Staudacher on the harpsichord. Now it so happens that Byrd is a favourite of mine, but like all the pieces collected in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book: way beyond me. So it was a delight to listen to an expert interpreting and playing this Fantasia.

This concert only went from better to best to superlatives. The trio sonata in G Opus 13 nr 6 composed by Jean-Marie Leclair was another treat: crisp yet warm. The Adagio was simply delightful, but the Allegro was a “cherry on the cake”. The interaction between Yves Ytier and Justyna Skatulnic was simply a joy to watch.

This is something striking going on with this ensemble: there is a sheer delight and appreciation listening to each other perform. There is something joyful and enthusiastic, which other ensembles have too, but which in this ensemble spills over not only in their performance but also infects their public. This ensemble is a true joy to listen to and watch on stage.

The best piece played during this concert really was Nicola Fiorenza’s Symphony. Words simply do not suffice to describe the ensemble playing this piece. It is a shame if you missed this performance and especially this piece played by Gradus ad Parnassum. They moved me and the people sitting on my left and right to tears.

The Symphony was followed by Vivaldi’s “La Follia” which brought the concert officially to a close. However, as stated above, the public did not let Gradus ad Parnassum go without an encore. It still baffles me that they were scheduled as ordinary fringe participants, instead of fabulous fringe. They definitely belong to the second group – despite not giving any background or introduction to the selected pieces of music and composers. But any questions, and they were happy to answer these after their concert.

Gradus ad Parnassum with their London Moods, 1st of September 2015, Doopsgezinde Church, Utrecht
Gradus ad Parnassum ensemble members at this occasion:
Yves Ytier, violin
Justyna Skatulnik, violin
Felix Theidemann, cello
Georg Staudacher, harpsichord

Youtube Henry Purcell’s Golden Sonata performed by Voices of Music on original instruments.
Youtube Official Early Music Festival website with videos and music

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