An Italian in Manchester: Sollima Plays Cello in Diverse Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Respighi, Boccherini and Sollima: Manchester Camerata / Giovanni Sollima (director/cello), Giovanni Guzzo (director/violin), Hannah Roberts (cello), Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 18.11.2011. (MC)

Respighi – Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No.3 (1931)
Boccherini – Cello Concerto No.7 in G major (c. 1770)
Sollima – Violoncelles, Vibrez! (1993)
Boccherini – La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid
arranged for string orchestra
Sollima – LB Files (2005)

Last night I was anointed by the Sollima experience and now I’m a disciple. Yes. Giovanni Sollima composer and cellist extraordinaire took the RNCM by storm. Entitled Portrait of an Italian not surprisingly his fascinating concert was infused with Italian connections. Running through the all-Italian concert programme was Sollima’s own Italian heritage played by two soloists on Italian made cellos.

Giovanni Sollima, a Palermo born musician,sometimes described as the ‘Jimi Hendrix of the cello’, has collaborated with many of the greatest names in the music world. Tonight’s music didn’t lend itself to too many Hendrixian effects as Sollima presented a programme that fused music from the classical era of Boccherini and neo-Renaissance Respighi with the eclectic yet accessible modernity of his own compositions.

To open the concert Giovanni Guzzo directed from the violin the Third Suite from Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. Based on sixteenth and seventeenth century lute and guitar pieces, Respighi’s Suite for strings is elegant and highly attractive yet the writing contains a dark, almost sinister, undercurrent. With the violins and violas standing to play the rich mellow sound of the Camerata was exceptional.

Sollima was the soloist in Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No.7 in G major. Strong parallels here between Boccherini and Sollima both Italians who composed but predominantly earned their living travelling Europe as renowned cello virtuosos. Holding his dark-brown stained Francesco Ruggeri (Cremona 1679) instrument between the knees Sollima conveyed wistful playing, punctuated by passages of virtuosity and exuberance.

Sollima’s Violoncelles, Vibrez! for two cellos and strings swept excitingly through the hall with all the freshness of an Alpine mistral. At times the communication from cello soloists Sollima and the excellent Hanna Roberts was so intense that it felt they were drawing the audience into their intimate dialogue. Containing a wide variety of expression with some gloriously yearning writing it is probably the stormy and energetically dynamic episodes that will lodge in the memory.

Boccherini’s La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid (Night Music of the Streets of Madrid) is a programmatic seven movement suite for string quintet arranged for string orchestra. Led by Giovanni Guzzo the Camerata provided a picturesque if rather frivolous excursion around the Madrid streets. Only the stoniest of hearts could fail to enjoy the movement Minuetto dei Ciechi (The Minuet of the Blind Beggars) where most of the players placed their instruments on their laps and strummed them like guitars.

The final work of the evening LB Files for solo cello and strings was Sollima’s four part “mini dramatisation” of the life of Luigi Boccherini. A light-veined, restless piece with much frenzied activity. Often memorable, always fascinating to my ears and to my eyes, Sollima’s eclectic score does not have the same degree of steady pulse and numbing repetitions of the trance-like minimalist compositions of say Philip Glass or Steve Reich. In the section titled Igiul the meltingly tender theme was so memorable that it would gain much popularity if used as a TV theme. The final two movements contain pre-recorded voices over the string writing. First a woman’s voice reciting French text from Giacomo Casanova in the style of a Fandango followed by sung English words by Gilbert Diop Abdourahmane in the Boccherinero. The voices add to the Latin atmosphere yet from my seat in the hall the words were virtually inaudible. They were however crystal clear on the webcast.

How the Manchester audience loved the concert with much cheering and whooping earning three enjoyable encores. Giovanni Sollima is a one-off, a classically trained cellist who can adopt the vigour of a rock musician composing highly accessible music of real substance. I’m sure that in the Manchester Camerata he cannot have hoped for finer support.

Michael Cookson