Kimon Daltas

Tour on the spot

3:31, 6th December 2016

Adrian Chandler and his band La Serenissima are part way through a grand musical tour of Italy – which is actually all taking place in London, writes Kimon Daltas

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‘We’re not going to finish the project in our lifetime by any means’

‘The Grand Tour’ is a six-concert residency at St John’s Smith Square which sees Adrian Chandler take his ensemble La Serenissima through a virtual tour of Vivaldi’s contemporaries.

The itinerary began with Venice and the Four Seasons in September and a concert of sonatas by Vivaldi, Albinoni and Caldara in October, then called in on Bologna and Verona in November with works by Bononcini, Torelli and Dall’Abaco.

‘Our main man is Vivaldi,’ says Chandler, of the now 22-year-old Serenissima, which he founded while still a student at the Royal Academy of Music. ‘I’ve long wanted to explore the areas around which he worked, but due to the constraints of one sort and another, I’ve never really had the opportunity to do so in the past.

‘For our first residency I thought a grand tour would be a good idea, concentrating on the four main centres of music making at the time, having started with the Four Seasons and finishing with ‘The Italian Job’ [as the final concert is titled] which is a bit of a medley of fine Italian tunes.’

In between there is ‘A Roman Christmas’, which as well as being a perfect excuse to play Corelli’s best known concerto, will also see the modern day premiere of a Christmas cantata by Caldara – ‘an exceptionally fine work’, according to Chandler.

‘As far as we can tell, it hasn’t been performed since the since its original performance back in 1713. I’d really like it to stay in our repertoire but it’s quite an expensive piece to put on. It’s around 55 minutes, for soprano, two contralti, chorus and strings – but the chorus only sings in about the last two minutes of the piece. Because of that I dug up a short ‘Alleluia dicite’ for chorus and strings which we’ll stick at the end of the first half which again I’m not sure has been performed in modern times.

‘That’s one of the things about Caldara – he’s a composer that we’re still we’re still exploring. But we are very fortunate that a huge amount of his work survives in manuscript either through the Santini collection which is now in Münster, or in Vienna where they’ve come down from the collections of the Venetian court from when Caldara was working for Charles VI.

‘If Charles VI went to a performance, he would often have a copy of the score so he could follow the music during the performance and sometimes he would actually play the harpsichord as well. Caldara was lucky in working for fairly cultured patrons throughout his life.’

Chandler is constantly digging out works from archives which have barely if ever been performed, and what started 22 years ago as a Vivaldi project – and is some way still is – has expanded to become not just a career but a life’s work.

‘You know, shortly after I left college I think it was fairly obvious that this was something that was going to run and run,’ he recalls. ‘There’s so much great music by great composers that nobody’s ever heard that deserves to be played – we haven’t even scratched the surface.’

He finds himself frequently fighting the perception that this music has been forgotten with good reason. ‘Some of the time, yeah. It is rubbish! But a lot of the time I would say that the music really has something to offer. You say a life’s work, but there are several lifetimes’ work in doing something like this. We’re not going to finish the project in our lifetime by any means.’

Future projects include a tribute to Telemann for the 250th anniversary of his death in 2017, and recordings of ‘The Italian Job’ programme, plus another of double concertos.

But for the time being, it’s a leisurely trip round the Italian baroque, hosted by the jewel in the crown of the English baroque.

La Serenissima’s Grand Tour continues at St John’s Smith Square on 4 December (A Roman Christmas), 18 January (Naples), and 15 February (The Italian Job).

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