Six hundred years ago three men rode into what is now the German lakeside town of Konstanz, each claiming to be the pope. The endless wrangling to determine which one had the best claim (it turned out to be Martin V) is known to history as the Council of Constance. And if you went there now – you fly to Zurich, then take a train – you’d find events in progress to commemorate the anniversary.
Some are church-based, but they branch out into celebrating nature, gardens (the whole area around Lake Constance is a sort of garden, beautifully kept) and music. I was there last week and heard a plainsong concert in the abbey church of Salem on the far side of the lake. And there was jazz in the idyllic gardens of a villa called Arenenberg, once owned by the Napoleon family. But most memorable was an organ recital at Konstanz’s Minster church, entirely given over to two massive, complex and absurdly vulgar improvisations performed by Giampaolo Di Rosa, a young virtuoso and titular organist of the Portuguese Church of S Antonio in Rome.
Grand improvisations of this kind – running for over an hour – are an acquired taste. To work at all, they need to be anchored in something the audience can grasp and keep in mind as the elaborate processes of music – partly pre-planned, partly snatched out of the air – unfold. And Di Rosa’s processes were elaborate to the point of excess – embellished with glissando runs at lightning speed and every other form of decoration known to human fingers. It became a cake with too much cream.
But the bravado of the playing was extraordinary. And Di Rosa’s staying power, maintaining the invention through enormous time spans, was impressive too. I’m not sure if he’s known in organ-playing circles here in Britain, but he ought to be.
Meanwhile, the new British concert season has begun and it finds the London Symphony Orchestra with no music director, having said goodbye to Valery Gergiev but still waiting for Simon Rattle to arrive. Filling the gap is Gianandrea Noseda, who has just been appointed principal guest conductor. And the LSO will be heavily reliant on him in the next 12 months – which is no bad thing if he continues as he started last Sunday, with a spectacular account of Verdi’s Requiem.
Devoid of spiritual content (Verdi loathed the Church), this is a piece whose energies derive from operatic fervour. And Noseda knows exactly how to bring that off. With fine Italian soloists and the LSO’s own Chorus in superb form, it was a lesson in how to give heavyweight material its due but with precision and particularity. All-round magnificent.
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