Kudos to Canzonare for its taste and ingenuity. Its “En Barque” program at The Loring-Greenough House on Sunday, featuring late Baroque and early Classical works associated with Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander novels, demonstrated the group’s commitment to exploring lesser known composers as well as imaginative presentation. Yet beyond literary connections, the period instrument trio (with Emma Gavenda filling in for regular harpsichordist Dylan Sauerwald) highlighted these works not as historical footnotes or academic curiosities but rather as popular music of their time. Traverso player Kateri Chambers’s spirited readings from the novels before each piece illustrated these composers as names people knew, discussed and most importantly performed.
Hearing these pop composers’ works in a small parlor (seating barely twenty listeners) connected this music back to the un-pretentious intimacy that originally defined it and which still serves it well today. Locatelli (1695-1764) was up close and personal, miles from the pyrotechnics of his concertos to dabble in the Galant style of his spry Trio Sonata in C (Op. 5) and Flute Sonata No. 1 in C (Op. 2). Far from the concert hall, Carl Philipp Bach (1714-1788) eschewed his father’s polyphony and his own Sturm und Drang theatrics for a lighter touch in the pastoral cantata Phillis und Thirsis (Wq 232). Corelli’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in D (Opus 5), with just harpsichord rather than a densely packed continuo, may have seemed thin to some ears, but it allowed listeners to concentrate on the elegant virtuosity and cool lyricism that made him a musical giant in his time.
The addition of “Ridente la Calma” (K. 152), Mozart’s rearrangement of a Mysliveček aria, and “Voi Che Sapete” from Le Nozze di Figaro was probably intended to add some star power to the program. The juxtaposition of names and the harpsichord in the continuo may have had purists crying foul, but it was a reminder that Mozart was as likely to be found in living rooms as opera houses. Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) floating aria “Lieto Cosi Talvolta,” with its obbligato flute imitating birdsong, was stripped down to musical essentials and closed the concert as naturally as an evening with friends.
Naturalness in this repertoire is often missing, and in some ways comes with a price. The intimate repertoire and small space exposed issues with pitch, time and phrasing throughout. The third movement of Locatelli’s Flute Sonata, with its prickly divisions, was sloppy and unrhythmic. A strident high register and inexpressive ornaments marred Canzonare’s guest violinist in the Corelli, though she provided a clean, energetic central Allegro (the use of a dry one-manual harpsichord, no doubt out of necessity rather than choice, didn’t help soften the textures).
Core Canzonare member and vocalist Sarah Bellot fared best, singing both male and female parts in the Bach recitative with clear diction and humor. Despite an overly restrained delivery, her boyish tone suited young Cherubino’s description of noticing the opposite sex for the first time in “Voi Che Sapete,” and she really came alive for the Pergolesi, shaping its long lines with grace and a creamy yet focused soprano. The interplay between her and Chambers was hard to resist.
“Hard to resist” is a good way to sum up the sheer warmth and creative spirit that animated this program. These (student) performers are clearly fascinated and enthused by these works. They’ll continue to grow, making technical issues an afterthought. Hopefully, and more importantly, their energy and example will inspire others.
Andrew J. Sammut also writes for Early Music America and All About Jazz and covers the “pop of yestercentury” on his blog, Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic. He also plays clarinet and lives in Cambridge.