This week Longy School of Music celebrates Baroque music and dance from Italy and Germany by offering concerts and master classes. Longy faculty and guest artists are giving five concerts from July 27th to August 1st, all a part of the 16th Annual International Baroque Institute at Longy School of Music.
The institute’s co-director, Paul Leenhouts of the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam tells us, “This seminar revives the great tradition of musical exchange between Dresden, Germany, and Venice, Italy, during the reigns of Frederick Augustus I and his son, Frederick Augustus II, (1694—1763) that marked the musical and cultural life of the two capitals for a span of over two centuries…Thanks to the young Prince Elector August II’s special liking for Italian culture, Dresden was the most important place for Italian music and opera outside Italy in the 18th century.” The concert on Friday, July 31, featured Vivaldi as the Italian “rep” splitting the bill with three Germans—Pachelbel, Zelenka and Weiss. Unless you are a Baroque buff, you may not have heard these pieces before.
Once again, Vivaldi stole the show with his fiery idiomatic writing. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock soloed in Concerto ‘Il Grosso Mogul’ in D Major RV 208. Hot rhythms and flaming notes came from her ignited bow—the arched kind used in the Baroque—which she held closer in, making it seem like a toy. The whole ensemble caught on fire. A bit rough around the edges, their performance steered into real-life music-making bringing this concert to a blazing close.
Another real rendering of Baroque articulation came from cellist and institute co-director Phoebe Carrai. Her stance on the red-haired priest-composer of Sonata IX in G Minor RV 42 would make you believe some Baroque database had been downloaded in her instrument. Her curling, coiling and couching of Vivaldi turned his language into the most inviting, savory substance, pinning your ears down on every detail. It all seemed so very natural. Engaging—in a word—the way you dream music should be.
Yet another Vivaldi and another real rendering, this time came from Gonzalo X. Ruiz who brought great joy and inflection to Concerto in G Minor, Op. 11, No. VI, RV460. Like Carrai, Ruiz appears completely comfortable and connected to his instrument, the oboe. Airy, warm tones in liquefied rhythm spilled out into smartly, characteristically shaped “Vivaldi-isms.” And like Carrai, Ruiz’s natural bent also empowered his playing to transport us back into another era if not to igniting an inner glow.
The quiet lute of Lucas Harris in Sonata 45 by Sylvius Leopold Weiss entranced. Even with puzzling buzzes from the instrument, this unfamiliar solo piece took on attractive contrasts, creating an intimacy with just enough flashes of the unexpected to keep you on your Baroque toes.
Recorder player Paul Leenhouts’s softly exquisite sounds barely made it past the ensemble’s stormy energy in Vivaldi’s Concerto “La Tempesta Di Mare” in F Major, Op. X No. I RV 430. Arthur Hass created a cute close to Pachelbel’s Suite in F-sharp Minor and got a laugh out of it, but his harpsichord playing bordered on the fussy with too many inaccuracies popping up.
Countertenor Ricard Bordas sang Lamentatio Pro Die Mercurii Sancto of Jan Disma Zelenka in which he displayed considerable sincerity and control. For me, though, his voice is limited in its tonal and emotive appeal.
Readjusting the ear to a live concert after listening to the high precision sounds of compact discs can be an experience in and of itself, especially when it comes to tuning, ensemble balance, and the capability of the instrument to project in any given space. Such occurred on and off again at this concert, sometimes adding to the musical effect and other times distracting. I often wondered if this were a democratically run ensemble, as it clearly appeared to be in need of a director.