in: Reviews

July 25, 2012

Good Humor and Melodrama From Ensemble 1729


At St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Weston last night, Ensemble 1729 presented In the Steps of Herr Corelli, the penultimate set in the current season of the Society for Historical Performance Practice (SoHIP). Skillfully programmed with music from the brief period when the recorder and transverse flute were equally popular, the works ranged through Quantz, Mattheson, Telemann, Corelli, and the mysterious Pierre Prowo (possibly also known as Signor Schulze).

Ensemble 1729 (named for the Hardy-Ramanujan Number, not the year, although that happens to coincide fortuitously with various appropriate musical events), consisting of Vincent Lazer (recorder), Joanna Marsden (transverse flute), Camille Paquette-Roy (cello), and Matthew Hall (harpsichord), romped through the program with stylish wit, sensitivity, and quicksilver changes of mood and color. I confess, I did wish it were possible to hear the softer colors without the background whirr of electric fans; although the church was hot, they might have been turned off for the performance with impunity, especially as the audience was provided with “historically appropriate air-conditioning” in the form of paper fans.

The Quantz Sonata for Recorder and Flute in C Major (QV II: ANH. 3) opened the program with sweetly twining melodies, displaying the subtle shades of the two winds in most flattering juxtaposition. The Mattheson Flute Sonata II in G Major which followed, a treacherously idiosyncratic work, was performed with notable rhetorical clarity and rhythmic flexibility, all the way to its joker of a final gig.

The Telemann Sonate corellisante in F Major (TWV 42:F2), rearranged by the Ensemble to suit recorder and flute, was a joy to hear. Telemann’s music – too often dismissed as facile — contains such a wealth of detail and delicate characters that it requires a great precision and variety to execute well. Fortunately, that is exactly what it got – from the particularly toothsome Grave to a cadenza that burst into a wicked flash of Brandenburg V.

The charm so evident in the program as a whole peaked in the Corelli Sonata in F Major, Op. V No. 10 (adapted for recorder). Many differently ornamented versions of the Opus V Sonatas exist; the Ensemble chose one from an anonymous manuscript now in Berkeley, in which the ornaments are particularly flamboyant. The effect is only heightened by the sonata’s steady progress into wilder and giddier tempi. The lilting Sarabande is followed by a skittish giggle of a Giga that seems as though it cannot be bettered. But of course it is, when the cheeky little devil of the final Gavotta grows ever more blisteringly fast.

After all this good-humored music, the drama — indeed, the melodrama — of the final  Sonata for Recorder and Flute in C Minor stood out in stark and sobering contrast. Little is known of the composer, Pierre Prowo (who may be the same man as the “Signor Schulze” whose name is one of the manuscripts), but if this sonata is representative, he is well worth hearing, and I, for one, look forward to more of him.

Ensemble 1729 will be repeating this program on Wednesday night in the Chapel at West Parish in Andover, and again on Thursday night in Lindsay Chapel in Emmanuel Church in Boston, and they are well worth hearing, so take the chance. Most of their members are based in Montreal, and this may be the last chance to hear them in the area until next year.

Harpsichordist Tamar Hestrin Grader received her A.B. in Music from Harvard.

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