in: Reviews

October 28, 2012

Beyond Standard Repertoire from the Roadies

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On Friday, October 26th, the Musicians of the Old Post Road presented “Musical Delights with Lute and Viol” at Christ Church, Cambridge, joining forces with Duo Maresienne—: Olav Chris Henriksen and Carol Lewis playing the aforementioned instruments. As is often their wont, the performers selected lesser known works——in this instance, of the German late Baroque by composers respected in their day but (with one exception) entirely eclipsed in posterity by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The first work played was the Concertino á 4 for flute, violin, and cello, and continuo by Johann Melchior Molter (1696-1765) though here there were in fact five players: Suzanne Stumpf, flauto traverso, Daniel Ryan, cello, Michael Bahmann, harpsichord, Lewis playing treble viol (the violin part), and Henriksen doubling the continuo line on theorbo. The players had the satisfying give and take of chamber musicians who have long experience playing together. The third and last movement was the most engaging, a Menuetto whose courtly outer sections framed a poignant Trio with many an expressive sigh, the only extended passage in the minor mode in the whole Concertino.

The Concerto in D Major for viola da gamba and lute by Johann Michael Kühnel (fl. 1717-1730) was performed by Duo Maresienne. As the composer played both instruments, his imaginative writing for the uncommon combination was not unexpected. Kühnel skillfully exploited the sustained tones of the bowed instrument and the quasi-percussion of the plucked instrument. While the music itself was not of the highest inspiration, it did reveal the full range of the combination’s textural possibilities in the skilled hands of Lewis and Henriksen.

The first half concluded with the Concerto No. 5 in B Minor for transverse flute, obbligato harpsichord, and continuo (cello and theorbo) by Georg Philipp Telemann. The work’s slightly unusual feature is its use of the harpsichord as a solo instrument rather than continuo (though its bass line did seem to double the continuo, perhaps inevitably). One could quickly understand why Telemann has remained the only household name on this program.  His superior imagination was manifested in the greater variety of harmonies, rhythms, and textures. The outstanding performance was a model of Baroque performance practice that also engaged the heart. Particularly memorable were the two slow movements, the first a lovely flute and harpsichord dialogue with some beautiful ornamentation, and the third (beginning in the major and ending in the minor!) notable for moving chromatic scalar motifs (downward and upward).

The Trio Sonata in G Major for transverse flute, viol, and continuo by Georg Philipp Kress (1712-1786) used a lute continuo in place of the harpsichord, exercising an option specified in the manuscript. This is only logical since the harpsichord is a plucked instrument itself; it merely uses plectra rather than fingers to do the plucking. In view of its composer’s dates, the sonata’s four movements were backward looking, enjoyable if not inspired music which the performers played with affection and elegance. The most interesting to this listener was the third movement, Siciliana, which was a first cousin to a Handelian pastorale.

Interestingly, the most forward looking piece on the program was by a composer sixteen years older than Kress, Ernst Gottlieb Baron (1696-1760). His Fantasy in C Major for lute, here played as a prelude to his Concerto in C Major for lute, transverse flute, and bass, features aspects of C. P. E. Bach’s empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style), particularly some unusual harmonic progressions and emotional highs and lows even within the limited dynamic range of the lute. Henriksen enhanced the drama by varying the speed of arpeggiations——as well as playing dramatic block chords ——and applying rubato rather more liberally than one legitimately could in a strictly Baroque work. It was slightly odd then that the Concerto which followed immediately was much more in traditional Baroque style with steady tempi and conservative harmonies. (One wonders if it was Baron’s expressed intention to preface the Concerto with the Fantasy.) Another Baroque hallmark was the slow movement’s ending on a half cadence, necessarily leading into the last movement. The musicians brought a wonderful lilt to this finale, giving its dactylic rhythms both bounce and forward thrust.

The program ended with another Concerto in B Minor by Telemann, though with a slightly different solo group: transverse flute, viola da gamba, and cello plus continuo (Bahmann with Henriksen playing theorbo). The opening Adagio was elegiac with the solo instruments doing something akin to keening, successively. The lively second movement (Vivace) was like a spirited group conversation among all five players. There was a more reflective exchange of ideas, mainly between traverso and gamba, in the Andante third movement. The final Presto, agitated and almost too brief, gave all five performers perhaps their best opportunity of the evening to demonstrate their individual and corporate virtuosity, and they did not disappoint. Nevertheless, lest anyone think such display was ego-driven, the players gave it an unusual piano conclusion.

With three more concerts in their season, one hopes the Musicians of the Old Post Road will play to fuller houses. Even in one of the world centers of early music and period instruments, these players should be noted for their venturing off the beaten path of standard repertoire as well as their outstanding performances.

Geoffrey Wieting holds Bachelor’s degrees in organ and Latin from Oberlin College and a Master’s degree in collaborative piano from New England Conservatory. He is a freelance organist, collaborative pianist and vocal coach, and choir member at Trinity Church, Copley Square and in the Back Bay Chorale.
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