What could really go wrong in a concert presided over by beautiful images, resplendent in blue robes and ringed in gold and accompanied by large scale paintings and dominated by a formidable dome? This was the setting at the grandiose Asunción church in Denia, Alicante for a recent concert by musicians of the Chamber Philharmonia from Cologne.
“Classical music the world over” is the motto of the Chamber Philharmonia of Cologne . As far as I can see, this is a flexible ensemble dedicated to exploring performance formats beyond the standard concert hall and its members are drawn from many countries, with the city of Cologne as their meeting point. Tours regularly take the ensemble to New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Great Britain, Ireland and many other countries and in Germany there is a regular partnership with the Mercedes Benz Centre.
When I saw a poster advertising Ana Palacios as solo flautist I assumed she was from the local region of Alicante, one of the many leading woodwind players to grow up through the thriving Spanish village band tradition. Anyway, it turns out that Ana Palacios was born and trained in Zaragoza before making her way to Germany for post graduate study. Her performance in this concert showed a technical brilliance and musical sensitivity which are beautifully rounded.
Anar Ibrahimov was born in Azerbaijan and studied in his home country and in France en route to Cologne. His violin playing is of such virtuosity that this evening´s repertoire fell comfortably under his fingers and for his encore he chose to play a piece from his own country which was beautiful in its simplicity: I am sorry I could not hear the composer´s name when Ibrahimov made his impromptu announcement. He had already lit the fireworks so there was no need to show off technique, instead he gave the evening an original and moving finale.
The two soloists were joined by a quintet whose names did not appear in the simple printed programme and this is a pity as they certainly deserve their share of recognition for the success of this lovely evening. Not only did they all play with excellent intonation and balance, but they overcame the challenges of ensemble posed by the formidable dome, which gives the church a very special acoustic.
The programme was made up of a series of short, light pieces suitable for a summer evening which were tuneful and entertaining yet which gave scope for all the players, and especially the soloists, to show their mettle. In the first half, concerti by Vivaldi and Bach and in the second half a Mozart Serenade, Sarasate´s Romanza Andaluza and variations on themes from Carmen by Borne.
The chamber size ensemble worked especially well in the Mozart as one voice per part gave a clarity that we don´t appreciate when parts are doubled. For me this gave an original freshness to this very familiar work. Was I the only one who missed a harpshichord for the continuo in the Baroque pieces? The orchestration of the Sarasate was not quite complete but this music is mainly about strong melodies and brilliant solo playing and on this occasion the soloists´ flair was enough to faithfully convey the music´s character.
If the exquisite setting of the Asunción church and the otherworldly playing by Chamber Philharmonia Cologne tempted us to think we were momentarily living on a higher plane, the interjections of a samba troupe intruding from the street to advertise Denia´s summer shopping night brought us all back to earth. For a couple of hours at least, the spiritual and the material worlds were intertwined by music.