Rian Evans 

Accademia Bizantina/Dantone – review

Every note was brought magically and vibrantly alive in this hot-property ensemble's Venice-themed baroque programme, writes Rian Evans
  
  

This year's Gregynog festival takes Venice as its theme, marking the centenary since sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies bought their Monet paintings of that city. Accademia Bizantina, whose name celebrates the historic connection between Venice and Byzantium, was just one of the remarkable lineup of performers – Jordi Savall included – invited. Under their artistic director and co-founder Ottavio Dantone, conducting from the keyboard, the Accademia gave a dazzling recital of early and later baroque music by composers connected with Venice, proving just why this ensemble has become such hot property. Every note was brought magically and vibrantly alive.

Johann Kapsberger's Sinfonia e Corrente was a gentle opening to the 17th-century half of their programme but, with the launch into Andrea Falconiero's Canzone detta "L'infanta Arcibizzarra", the playing took flight: bright and breezy yet with muscular rhythmic definition, precision-controlled by Dantone but embodying a uninhibited joy. Two pieces by Dario Castello, his Sonata II and the Sinfonia No 15, stood out for their spontaneity – elegant musical statements delivered in succession, but with subtle variations in dynamic, ornamentation and tempo, as well occasional eastern inflections. The second half's 18th-century sequence of Vivaldi, Baldassare Galuppi, Giovanni Platti and Albinoni was equally compelling, with the latter's Sinfona a Quattro in F major again creating fluctuations of tempo which reflected the music's emotional tenor perfectly, its lively allegro finale brilliantly executed to end with a flourish.

There were meltingly beautiful solos from violinist Stefano Rossi and lutenist Tiziano Bagnati, while a gutsy bass presence also characterises the Accademia sound, but it's the supreme musicianship of Dantone that brings extra authority. His own solo harpsichord recital earlier was exemplary. His quietly charismatic approach combines scholarship and nonchalant virtuosity, but his sheer expressivity was a revelation.