Philippe Pierlot, bass viol, and Lorenzo Ghielmi, harpsichord, in a concert of 17th– and 18th-century music explored the transmission of musical traditions across generations yesterday afternoon at Emmanuel Church. The concert mostly split between music in French (first half) and Germanic (second half) traditions.
Bartolomeo Selma y Salaverde’s Susanna passeggiata was the operner. Based on the chanson, “Susanne ung jour” about the tale of Susanna and the Elders, this is the most widely known work by this Spanish composer and Augustinian friar. The bass viol improvises around the cantus firmus in the continuo part. It would seem this work opened the program because it demonstrates one composer interacting with a pre-existing musical tradition; if Selma y Salaverde was master or student to other composers on this program I do not know the connection. Pierlot made good use of sound decay and dynamic variation in this piece, although the large space of Emmanuel Church sanctuary led to the fast passagework sounding blurry and indistinct.
Ghielmi followed with a solo turn with Georg Böhm’s Præludium, Fugue, and Postludium in g. Although the composer was North Germanic and served as organist in Lüneburg, this work is a study in French-style ornamentation. Frequently performed on organ although written for “keyboard,” it is a lovely addition to the harpsichord repertoire. The opening had a martial aspect not often heard in harpsichord music, followed by a stately fugue which was simultaneously grounded and fanciful—the ornamentation never overwhelming the music’s phrasal structure.
Pierlot soloed next with two French works for viol alone. Nicolas Hotman’s Ballet was lively and adept with a nice interplay between voices across the strings of the viol. This was paired with a Chaconne in d by Hotman’s student, Jean de Sainte-Colombe, which remains faithful to the dance origins of the form while wringing multiple variations upon that. This performance was both spirited and triste.
Sainte-Colombe taught Marin Marais, whose Couplets de folies Ghielmi and Pierlot performed to round out the first half of the program. Based on song La Folia, this is a weightier work than the diminutive title “couplets” would suggest. A statement of the theme leads to thirty-one variations. Pierlot and Ghielmi used a variety of colors, tones, and timbres, along with some metrical modulations, to bring out the varying characters in this music. The whole was, not atypically for Marais, a study in virtuosity here performed with aplomb.
Following the pause, the music shifted to a more Germanic idiom. Ghielmi performed J. S. Bach’s Aria variata alla maniera italiana, BWV 989. In a variety of colors (not something normally associated with harpsichord music), Ghielmi perfectly captured the unsettling tempo modulations in this music.
Pierlot offered three works by Carl Friedrich Abel from among a series of 25 preserved in a manuscript now in the Drexel Collection of the New York Public Library. The Arpeggio offered flowing waves of sound, while the Adagio maintained that sense of flow even as it shifted to slow lyricism and a series of interesting harmonic suspensions. The Allegro was a shimmering rill, flowing fleetly. This judicious selection made a pleasing suite, with each successive movement building on the previous in terms of phrasing and character, and a compelling invitation to reconsider Abel as a composer.
The concert concluded with J. S. Bach’s viola da gamba Sonata in D, BWV 1028, here performed on bass viol. The shock of the familiar executed with technical prowess and musical precision gave a new airing to this familiar favorite and marked an apt conclusion to this program. Recalled to the stage, Pierlot and Ghielmi presented the dance, La Mariée as an encore.
Mercifully, the caliber of the music-making quickly swept away my initial irritations at logistical and scheduling perturbations.