in: Reviews

February 7, 2010

The Salon Was Cold, but Not the Music

by

Musicians of the Old Post Road presented a concert, “From the Romantic Salon,” at both the First Parish in Wayland on February 5 and the Harvard Epworth Church in Cambridge on February 6. I heard the latter, but the Church’s heating system was not working, so we all sat huddled in our coats—the temperature was surely no more than 50° F (it was 21° F outside), with perceptible drafts. Nonetheless the performers, Olav Chris Henriksen, guitar, Suzanne Stumpf, flute, Sarah Darling, viola, and Daniel Ryan, cello, in spite of their red cheeks, miraculously managed to seem oblivious. The temperature was probably good for the instruments, but these weren’t just any old instruments.

The concert was built around Henriksen’s unaltered six-string guitar, ca. 1805, in the style of the Viennese school of Johann Georg Stauffer (1778-1853). (See the article, “Stalking the Oldest Six-String Guitar,” by Thomas F. Heck, which includes a picture of a Stauffer instrument of 1820.) It had once been owned by Henriksen’s great-great-grandfather in Norway, and handed down through generations of the family, “always to the one who learned to play on it.” It is comparatively small but has a rich resonance easily heard throughout the well-chosen space. Suzanne Stumpf’s wooden, multi-keyed, old system flute is also from Vienna at the same period: it has a sweet sound in its lower register, and bird-like fleetness in its upper one. Dan Ryan’s singing cello was made a century earlier (ca. 1700) in Belgium, and Sarah Darling’s viola almost two centuries later (in 1987) in Chicago (by William Whedbee).

The music for the first two works was found in the Henriksen family archives, rediscovered a year ago, a collection representing guitar music played in family circles in northern Europe from 1793 to 1850. The Rondo, op. 28, no. 2, by Francesco Molino (1775-1847),  first published in Leipzig in 1810,  served as a fine chance to introduce the guitar by itself in a simple, charming, stylishly performed piece by a master of the instrument. The Variations for flute and guitar, by the otherwise unknown I. A. Preis, is a similarly delightful work whose short sections are distinctly energetic. Another short work, for cello and guitar, the Nocturne no. 2 by Friedrich Burgmuller (1806-1874), is from a set of three originally published in 1840 by Richault in Paris, but reprinted by three publishers in the last 30 years. Marked Adagio cantibile, the piece is indeed an aria of great beauty for the cello, in baldly simple ABA form. Dan Ryan’s violoncello soared eloquently to Henriksen’s simple accompaniment.

The two longer works on the program were each in five movements, an assortment of simple sonata forms and dances. The first, just before intermission, was a Serenade in C Major for viola, cello and guitar (before 1808) by the violinist and composer Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840). The final movement, the Andantino (alla Polacca), was published as an appendix to the first edition in 1985. The other movement markings colorfully suggest their character: Andantino, amorosamente, Unione e con anima, and Canzonetta Genovese. One wished the group could have relaxed a bit more and “danced” these, but no doubt the temperature seriously discouraged this. The final work on the program is perhaps historically the most interesting: a Nocturne, op. 21, by the Viennese composer Wenzel Matiegka (1773-1830), originally for flute, viola, and guitar published by Artaria in Vienna in 1807, and arranged by Franz Schubert in 1814. He replaced the second Trio of the Menuetto movement (D. 96), and reapportioned the viola part between it and the cello (D. Anh. II/2). The third movement, Lento e patetico, was unfortunately marred in one of its most beautiful phrases in the cello by an accelerating bus outside. (Sanders Theatre has its fire engines!) In the final theme and seven variations, Schubert played with the textures by allowing both the guitar and the cello to take turns sitting one out, and also wrote new music for the cello. The manuscript in his hand was not discovered until 1918, and the exact relationship to Matiegka’s work not determined until a copy was located in 1931. The full story is told in great detail by Reinhard Van Hoorickx in Revue belge de musicologie (1977). It was the highlight of this musical evening.

Musicians of Old Post Road, Inc.. founded in 1989, do us a great service by bringing to our serious attention tasteful performances of well-chosen music from a genre that was widespread in both Europe and America before the age of the concert hall. And furthermore, their program notes are just as outstanding as their performances. Kudos!

Mary Wallace Davidson has directed the music libraries at Radcliffe, Wellesley, Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University. She now lives in the Boston area.


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