In flagrante delicto -- a Latin term commonly used for catching one's spouse in the act of having sex with another -- applies to Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), who then murdered his wife and her lover, stabbing both multiple times. Though he was the most famous composer to have committed such a brazen act, there were many contemporaries of his who clearly weren't the nicest of people.
In Friday's Early Music Festival concert, four talented young instrumentalists explored the music of six of these. Calling themselves Wayward Sisters, none of the foursome are related, and one is "clearly" a man. Their program's title: The Naughty List: Music of Braggarts, Hotheads, Curmudgeons, and Snobs.
Even though the group played nothing by Gesualdo, they could have included "murderers" in their title. Their third offering, "Folia" for solo theorbo was written by Bellerofonte Castaldi (1581-1649), who avenged the death of his brother by killing in turn. It was excellently rendered by theorbist John Lenti. The other Sisters are Baroque violinist Beth Wenstrom, recorder player Anne Timberlake and Baroque cellist Anna Steinhoff.
All four opened with the Sonata VII in E Minor by Henry Purcell (1659-1695), not among the six naughty ones. A masterful piece in six parts showing a wide range of moods, the Sisters played it with great finesse. Then came Choral with Variations by William Brade (1560-1630), described by his contemporaries as a "mischievous, wanton fellow."
The first half ended with two offerings by Tarquinio Merula (1594-1665), dismissed for "indecency in front of his pupils." First was the Sonata Prima for theorbo and cello--interesting for its well handled, off-the-beat rhythms. Then came Ciacona (Chaconne) with the foursome returning, featuring a fast-paced repeated line.
All the Sisters continued after the break with the Suite No. 6 in D by Matthew Locke (1621-1677), known for being salaciously intemperate with his critics, and completely at odds with this lovely, lyric composition. For a break in the Naughty List, we then heard the Red Priest -- i. e. Antonio Vivaldi -- in his Sonata No. 3 in A Minor for theorbo and cello. In two movements, I found it uncharacteristic and less interesting than the usual Vivaldi.
Next came the one piece in which Lenti played a guitar in place of his theorbo, Ayres for the Violin: Book 4 by the short lived Nicola Matteis (1670-1698), whose "pride and arrogance were incomparable." Despite the title, we heard the foursome play a sparkling, delightful work. Concluding with equal sparkle was the Sonata Duodecima of Dario Castello (1590-1658), who had an "acerbic" personality.
Wayward Sisters, though together only a few years, shows the promise of becoming an elite early-music group. July 12; Indiana History Center