“Our mandolin ensemble would like to perform at Westminster Music Library” “Fantastic! Err how many of you will there be?”
“Oh just sixteen or so…”
Well I like a challenge and we’d never hosted a mandolin ensemble before, how could I refuse? So it was that sixteen enthusiastic musicians – not just mandolins but also double bass, guitars, mandolas (aka the mandolin’s big brother), and not forgetting talented Musical Director James Young – arrived here last Thursday evening, all tuned up and raring to go.
Sure enough, fitting all our musicians and audience into one small space was a challenge, but everyone was soon settled without too much loss of elbow room.
The London Mandolin Ensemble (indeed the only mandolin ensemble in London) was formed in 2012 (they have revived in name the original London Mandolin Ensemble, which first met in London in the early 1970s) by a group of enthusiastic amateur musicians who discovered a shared passion for making music on this diminutive plucked string instrument. Their goal is to maintain the tradition of an ongoing mandolin ensemble in London, and to encourage an interest in mandolin orchestras (which were hugely popular in the UK up until the 1930s), through performance, workshops and master classes.
The concert began with an arrangement of Valentine Roeser’s Sonata no. 6. Originally written for two mandolins and guitar with an added bass continuo part, Roeser is known to have worked in Paris from about 1762 – 1782. There’s a hint of Vivaldi about his style and form but with a little more kick.
This was followed by an anonymously written Partita Antiqua, new to us but famous amongst mandolin aficionados.
The first half of the concert ended with a Mandolin Concerto by Johann Adolf Hasse. Though Hasse was a prolific 18th-century composer whose works included more than 100 operas, oratorios, and sinfonias, most were destroyed in the Siege of Dresden. This surviving concerto for mandolin is an outstanding representation of his skill, brilliantly performed by The Ensemble and featuring guest soloist Travis Finch.
Suitably refreshed, we returned to two arrangements of keyboard sonatas by baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. Something of a prolific chap, he wrote more than 600 keyboard sonatas including many not yet listed, newly discovered ones and doubtful ones, they certainly lend themselves brilliantly to the mandolin.
A leap forward in time to the twentieth century with Rêverie de Poète by the Italian composer Giuseppe Manente, and finally, the pièce de résistance, the first movement of Palladio by Karl Jenkins. This arrangement of one of Jenkins’s most recognized works was inspired by 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio and is in the style of a concerto grosso. It certainly sounded very familiar, Musical Director James commented: “just think about buying diamonds”*
The London Mandolin Ensemble gave a captivating and very warmly received performance which ended far too soon, but the good news is they’ll be back here next February; I’m booking myself a front row seat right now.
*Palladio, in varying arrangements, has served as the music for diamond merchants DeBeers TV advertising campaigns since the 1960s. Have a listen to this performance by the Het Consort:
Ruth Walters, Westminster Music Library