TIME STANDS STILL by L’Arpeggiata at the Oude Kerk, Delft

I discovered Christina Pluhar’s ensemble  L’Arpegiatta via Pino De Vittorio and Marco Beasley, singers who have revived Apulian early folk songs, so I was delighted to find that Thomas Oliemans had included L’Arpegiatta in his programme.

Theorbe (a kind of large lute) player Ms Pluhar has a passion for early music and attracts the best singers and musicians from around Europe. Tonight’s event took place in Delft’s Oude Kerk, the ancient church with the famous leaning tower. I always have qualms about concerts in churches – there are the many pillars, restricted sight lines, fixed uncomfortable pews – but more of that later.

We were treated to pieces from between 1500 to 1700. Belgian soprano Céline Scheen took to the stage and with her fine voice and expressive singing did the rather romantic songs justice. She has a long track record, having sung Mozart’s requiem at the Oratoire du Louvre no less and worked with counter tenor Philippe Jarousskky. Christina Pluhar on theorbe was joined by Francesco Turris on clavichord and organ, Josep Maria Marti Duran on lute and Baroque guitar and Doron Sherwin, who drew wonderfully warm sounds, not unlike those of a muted trumpet, from his cornetto.

L’Arpegiatta is famed for its rich, resonant sound and all the musicians performed beautifully. Céline Scheen’s angelic voice rose like magic under the high vaulted, wooden ceiling benefiting from a beautiful reverb – but here came the problem.

We sat in the front row behind the stage, just five metres away from the musician, but even for us the instruments were very quiet. I doubt whether anyone towards the back of the church heard much of the stringed instruments or any of the keyboards.  

Ms Scheen seemed to be unaware that a reasonably large section of the audience was seated behind her and she made little attempt to address them, consequently it was difficult to understand the lyrics even though they were in English

Also, the sight lines, as is always the case in church venues, were poor. It would have been impossible for anyone sitting further back than the front three or four rows to have seen much. Surely it would not be impossible to make a stage higher than fifty centimetres. The acoustics and atmosphere in churches are invariably near perfect but efforts must be made to enable the audience to see as well as hear.

Nevertheless, this was an excellent concert by an outstanding group of musicians playing rarely heard pieces on little known instruments. In a venue where everyone could see and hear it would be hard to fault.   Astrid Burchardt   1st August 2019

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