At more or less the midpoint of the Lucerne Festival in Summer, it was most helpful to venture back to the Baroque era thanks to today’s concert performed by the Meret Lüthi Ensemble. With four selections featuring the baroque violin spanning 1664-1744, the ear was treated to a much different texture and tone compared to the steady diet of Romantic era, twentieth century milestones and New Music that have dominated the programs to date and have been played on modern instruments. Ramón Ortega Quero’s oboe recital paid homage to the wind sonatas from the same era—cross-reference below—but this violin/basso continuo ensemble had much more to say about times past.
Switching venues for this series from the somewhat stark Lukaskirche (save and most importantly except for the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows that forms the backdrop) to “The Club” in the Luzern Casino further assisted the change of gears and re-appreciation of string playing centuries ago. With a full-length bar on the left (no customers partook during the performance) and a covey of angelic Cherubs looking down on it all clutching their own musical instruments in the lavishly decorated ceiling, the stage was intriguingly set for a program played on original instruments.
Finding a musical link to the Festival’s theme of Eros was as simple as scheduling Michele Mascitti’s Divertissement in D Major. The 10-part music was filled with hope (“Grand Air”), trauma (“Les Vents” flew out of Lüthi’s violin and Felix Knecht’s cello with the greatest of breeze), sleep, despair and reconciliation with even some relatively absent triplets invited to the closing wedding celebrations. After effectively setting the rolled-out tone of “Du Sommeil,” lutenist Jonathan Rubin became the life-of-the party tambourinist to close the set—the trills were as much fun in the attempt as in the slight result.
The four musicians took about five minutes to settle into the opener (Schmelzer’s Sonata No. 3 in G Minor). No doubt the room’s acoustics differ when a capacity crowd fills every seat, but soon the ensemble vagaries and slight tightness vanished as Lüthi tossed off the technical challenges with surety and zest that never approached the silliness of Riccardo Chailly’s “frantastic” Schumann symphony the previous night (cross-reference below). In much of this repertoire the virtuosic fire is more often the end rather than the means. Knecht was the consummate “lead” bass, providing an impressive variety of tone and ability to blend with his continuo colleagues or match the violin bow for bow where required.
With Anton Webern’s Passacaglia still in recent memory, the opening of Heinrich Biber’s Sonata No. 6 in C Minor was a refreshing account of free-flowing counterpoint. The preponderance of chromaticism (also utilized to great effect in Francesco Veracini’s Sonata No. 12 in D Minor) marvellously reminded the ear that the future 12-tone technique is based on these very same notes employed hundreds of years back, but with more harmonic consonance as companions along the way. That said, if there was anything lacking, it was the harmonic weight implied by many of the bass lines and approaches to cadences that fell just short of satisfying realization. Whether original instruments or modern, the harmonic structure cares not a whit about bow length, string construction or employment of vibrato.
Special mention to harpsichordist (whose instrument has a delightful salmon hue) Ieva Saliete. Like an excellent rhythm section, she was more frequently felt than heard, moving as one with cello and lute lines and darting in and around Lüthi’s exemplary readings in a fully supportive way that—especially in the dances—gave an extra lift to already engaging performances. JWR