Breathtaking Escapades

Music Festival: Maurice Steger’s Recorder Sonorities Concert promoters singing the praises of the artists performing in their events is something understandable but at the same time not above suspicion. In the case of Swiss recorder player Maurice Steger, however, the biographical hymn of praise printed in the program for his performance at the music festival seems quite understated in retrospect. There was not an empty seat in the hall when the 33-year old instrumentalist took the stage with harpsichordist Sergio Ciomei to perform a program of Italian Baroque music – which he did so with captivating ease and breathtaking intensity. Maurice Steger seemed to be inspired by the character of the hall and the design of its historical interior. Accompanied by these impressions, the various sonatas by Dario Castello up to Antonio Vivaldi were lent a special aura. Wonderfully exuberant, virtuoso technique, endless breath control and profoundly expressive; Maurice Steger turned every work into a fascinating sonorous jewel and gave meaning to the Italian term for the recorder: “flauto dolce”. In his hands the alto and tenor recorders sounded delicate, gentle, velvety and sweet. And on the soprano recorder, on the other hand, he produced more penetrating sonorities that brought the listeners almost to tremble. It was as if he gradually began to transform himself into a playful, brazen, youthful faun consumed by music. His lively, ecstatic escapades on his instruments provided moments of pure pleasure, as in the Sonata II by Giovanni Battista Fontana (who died circa 1631). And in the adagios he masterfully spun out gentle, long, legato lines that contrasted wonderfully with his vivace bite. The partnership with harpsichordist Sergio Ciomei was perfect and their unrestrained joy in the music was visible and audible. In Giuseppe Sammartini’s Sonata IV in G Major, for example, they threw each other balls of notes, set their marks, and ran unrestrained through the affects. Their virtuoso playing was characterized by enthusiasm, rhythmic precision and spirit. The harpsichordist proved himself to be an eager partner who mastered recitative-like accompaniment as well as flowing arpeggios and glimmering cascades of notes. His manner of performing lively sequences of chords in an almost jazz-like fashion in the Sammartini piece was astounding. And he further demonstrated his mastery in his performance of three solo sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. For their first encore the two artists exchanged places and instruments. Newly-appointed flutist Sergio Ciomei struggled through a weave of notes in search of a final trill – to no avail. Harpsichordist Steger brought the wonderful comedy to its (much too early) end.

Peter Buske

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