B-W Bach Festival: Concert 2 (April 15 at 8 pm)
by William Fazekas
Pity the professional Early Music performers of today: their trans- or inter-continental careers, their bios strewn with the names of ensembles and conservatories in far-flung cities, their lives spent in airports, hotels, and temporary housing. Case in point: the baroque ensemble Musica Pacifica, which performed on Friday evening's concert of the annual Bach Festival at Baldwin-Wallace University. Although described as being from the "San Francisco Bay Area," a quick comparison of the musicians listed on the Musica Pacifica website and credited in its recorded discography, and the quintet on stage Friday evening, produced only one name in common: recorder player Judith Linsenberg. Of the other performers on stage Friday night, two — harpsichordist Peter Bennett and viola da gambist Steuart Pincombe — have primary ties to Northeastern Ohio, while violinist Andrew Fouts appears to Pittsburgh based, and oboist Stephen Hammer hails from Clermont, NY. Still, it is a testament to the talents and professionalism of these musicians that if this grouping were a "pick-up ensemble," it was not evident from their precise yet suave playing.
Unlike the far-flung careers of the performers, the works performed were unified as to place: namely the city of Venice (Italy, not California), in the century and a half between the early baroque experiments of 1600 and the concerti of Antonio Vivaldi. Curiously, in many ways the evening as a whole was structured rather like a baroque concerto movement, with three concerti of Vivaldi for the full quintet acting like ritornelli as the opening piece of the program, and the opening and closing pieces on the second half. In between, strung out like the soli passages, were works written by earlier and lesser-known Venetian composers (Legrenzi, Castello, Veracini, and so forth) and scored for sub-groupings of the ensemble.
Of the three chamber concerti by Vivaldi, two also exist in arrangements for flute and orchestra — RV 104 in g min. (subtitled "La Notte") was up-sized by Vivaldi himself, while Musica Pacifica reversed the process with the concerto in F maj., RV 434. Replacing one of the violin parts with an oboe (which is essentially what was done) resulted in a rather odd and not always pleasant blend, heavy on wind tone. Not that the winds played too loudly — they didn't — but Mr. Fouts's subtle violin playing seemed scarcely to rise above a whisper. Of the three, "La Notte" seemed to work the best for this grouping, with its colorful instrumental writing and programmatic depiction of sleep, both restful and nightmare-haunted.
Balance was less of an issue in the non-Vivaldi works, each of which were programmed to show off the talents of one or two of the members of the ensemble. Although not credited as director of Music Pacifica, Ms. Linsenberg acted as spokesperson for the ensemble, giving informal spoken program notes between the pieces. Ms. Linsenberg is a recorder player who possesses some astounding vituosic technique, which she showed off in a glittering solo sonata by Dario Castello. Along with Mr. Fouts, she gave us a trio sonata by Giovanni Legrenzi, marked by a Corellian lyricism and buoyant, dance-inspired rhythms, but with some surprising rhythmic twists in the Corrente and Sarabanda.
Mr. Pincombe and Mr. Bennett got their chances to emerge from the shadows of continuo playing and into the center-stage spotlight: Mr. Pincombe gave us two fascinating Ricercari by Dominico Gabrielli for unaccompanied 'cello. Did Bach know these works when he was composing his six suites? Mr. Bennett (a ubiquitous fixture in concerts this week, it seems) delivered a fleet rendering of some virtuosic harpsichord works by Giovanni Picchi. The first half concluded with a set of three graceful pieces for recorder, violin, and continuo, each of which was structured as continuous variations on a repeating harmonic base-line, a technique popular with composers of the early 17th century, but which speaks so immediately to audiences of the early 21st. In particular, the Ciaconna a Tre by Maurizo Cazzati featured some lovely interplay between the violin and recorder.
Included in the second half was a lyrical rendition by Mr. Hammer of a trio sonata featuring oboe by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni, a composer better known for his concerto for the same instrument. In a solo sonata by the violin virtuoso Francesco Maria Veracicni, Mr. Fouts set aside his whispering tone to play with pathos and panache. Veracini wrote the kind of music which truly warrants the moniker "baroque," and this sonata was full his expressionistic writing, its three movements linked by a recurring chromatic motif. The full ensemble reconvened to finish the evening with the early Concerto in g minor (RV 107) by Vivaldi, whose final presto, atypically written in a chaconne form, brought the program to a zippy conclusion.
The concert was performed in Gamble Auditorium in the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory Main Building, which was, disappointingly, only about 40% filled.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 20, 2011
Click here for a printable version of this article