L’Arpeggiata brought its ear-catching brand of pseudo-baroque crossover to the Library of Congress on Monday night. It was the Washington debut of this genre-bending ensemble from Europe, directed by lutenist Christina Pluhar. L’Arpeggiata’s program was derived from a recording made a decade ago, a cocktail of one part historical music and two parts popular and folk music of more recent vintage.
Pluhar sees in this process of popularization a form of contact with a “living baroque” culture, but one hardly needs to accept the veracity of such a claim, tenuous at best, to enjoy what the group does. The program bears the title of that disc, “La Tarantella,” which explored music from southern Italy supposedly used to cure spider bites, but most of the pieces on this program were not tarantellas.
The group relies on improvisation, and the best extemporized contributions came from Doron Sherwin’s free-flying roulades on cornetto and the plucky double bass of Boris Schmidt, a jazz musician from Luxembourg. Some of the other musicians, however, kept their eyes firmly on their scores, and many of the “improvisations” sounded rehearsed.
Folk singer Lucilla Galeazzi sang with dialect-inflected zing, but although vocal strain was evident in her throat, it was sometimes hard to hear her without amplification. Anna Dego enlivened many pieces with some kind of vigorous dancing, including a spirited encore in which an audience member was invited to the stage. It seemed spontaneous, but it is part of the group’s shtick, and anyone who has watched a few of L’Arpeggiata’s YouTube videos would know more or less what to do.
Downey is a freelance writer.