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Baroque All-Stars in Kent

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Jan 11th, 2020

From left: Michael Roth, Raymond Erickson, Susan Rotholz, Eliot Bailen, Gerard Reuter

While there is a dearth of regional classical music ensembles in many places in the U.S., western Connecticut boasts the excellent Sherman Chamber Ensemble. Led by Artistic Director Eliot Bailen, they present a mercurial flexibility in their programming. Their annual “Best of Baroque” concert, performed at St. Andrew’s Church presented an impressive array of superb musicians with a recondite program.

Pianist Raymond Erickson, founder of “Rethinking Bach: A Performance Workshop” at the Aaron Copland School of Music, teacher at Queens College, Juilliard, and Rutgers University, is an internationally recognized Bach scholar and performer. Erickson introduced the program by pointing out Arcangelo Corelli’s musical legacy ran in the sonata’s four part structure (slow, fast, slow fast) ran through J.S. Bach and Johann Friedrich Fasch while Georg Philipp Telemann’s use of the sonata followed the practice of Antonio Vivaldi’s three part format (fast, slow, fast). Yet the largest influence on Bach was Vivaldi’s style of concertos, a form invented by Corelli, becoming the most popular format of the day during Vivaldi’s lifetime.

They opened with Corelli’s Sonata de Chiesa (Church), Op. 3, no. 2 (1689) composed in Rome. The slow, serious opening projected resonant sweetness. The lively Allegro offered Michael Roth on violin more challenges which he executed with bravura. Corelli wrote some of the most difficult violin passages, yet his violin work is no longer taught in schools. In the Adagio which conjured a mournful melody of affectionate remembrance, Gerard Reuter on oboe provided gentle recollection with his mellow tone. Erickson dominated on piano in the concluding Allegro by asserting a marvelous interwoven counterpoint texture that was a thrill to hear.

Flutist Susan Rotholz joined for Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor, RV 107 (1716). Susan and Michael projected the sunny warmth of sunrise amid the joy of daily life. The second movement demanded much pizzicato from Roth—the rainy afternoon dominated mid-day. The concluding Allegro had the clouds part to reveal the refreshing green landscape with ecstatic rejoicing in roseate sunset led by Erickson on piano and Eliot Bailen on cello; Bailen’s cello substituted for the bassoon line.

Sonata in E major for flute and continuo, BMV 1035 (1741), offered a showcase opportunity for Susan Rotholz. This piece was made famous by Jean-Pierre Rampal who often played it at concerts between 1950 and 1970; he was the first person to record this piece in 1950. Rotholz played with both eloquent ferocity and deft nuance that her former teach (Erickson) was visibly beaming and glowing with delight. After the performance he acclaimed Rotholz as one of his most intellectually gifted students, as well as being a great musician.

Erickson then played a solo rendition of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire” in an arrangement by Myra Hess. Of German descent she played over 2,000 concerts of German music in London during Hitler’s bombing of London. Erickson captured that special joy which Bach is most capable of expressing. 

Fasch’s Sonata in D major, FaWv, n: D1 (c. 1745) is thought to be for a song. Musicians call it an “unusual” piece, which means very difficult to play. After the concert Bailen told me that this was the most difficult of all their piece in the program, yet there was no sense of difficulty in the smoothly integrated performance which made the difficult running seem as easy as walking. Fasch, with whom I am not familiar with, appears to be undergoing a minor revival. In his day, his reputation as composer was the equal of J.S. Bach and Georg Telemann. The conclusion to this four-part sonata was simply spectacular!

Quartetto in G major, TWV 43: G2 (c. 1733) from Tafelmusik (Tablemusic) by Telemann remains one of the most pleasing and popular selections from that sequence of dining music. With piano leading in the first part, flute and oboe leading in the lively second movement, and violin and cello dominating the third part, the climax supplied such an integrated impact that the audience responded with an especially long round of applause as the musicians took six bows.

Here was a concert that traced innovative transmutation and evolution of Baroque music with deft aplomb and exuberant cheer. There was an engaging Meet-and-Greet the musicians with refreshments after the concert. The ever-alchemical Sherman Ensemble manages to make the past new, performing in the present….

A shortened version of this article previously appeared in the January 9 issue of The Lakeville Journal.