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Baroque Ascension in Millerton

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Aug 26th, 2017

David Smith, Elizabeth Chinery, and Jay Schulman

The Broad Street Chamber Players performed a Baroque music program at the Northeast-Millerton Library Annex as part of their Music in the Annex Series last Saturday evening. In my early twenties I was fond of Baroque music. Whenever I ran into a classical music afficionado, I was embarrassed to admit that I had finally moved on from the seventeenth century into the eighteenth century, but had not yet arrived into the nineteenth century as part of my musical education. Baroque music was around for a long period of time and was immensely popular. I enjoyed it as relaxing, slightly meditative, and infected with gaiety. Its optimism appealed to me.

That was true of this performance with Elizabeth Chinery on flute, Jay Shulman on cello, and David Smith on organ. They opened with George Frideric Handel’s Sonata in C major, HWV 365. Originally for recorder and harpsichord, this was a showcase for Chinery’s flute with cello support amplified with some gentle organ background. While the Sonata, following Vivaldi’s fast-slow-fast pattern, was only three movements at the time, Handel composed two in four movements, this being the first, a gavotte dance tune being inserted as the third movement. No one in the audience was prepared to dance to this lively tune but everyone enjoyed it while seated.

Moving further into the eighteenth century, they turned to France with Michel Blavet’s Sonata in E minor, Op., no 3. This, too, was in four movements, the second movement Rondeau being of exceptional interest with a peculiar satiric flavor then proceeding to a jovial Presto and Giga. I had not heard Blavet played since 1972 at a Carnegie Hall concert by the greatest flute player who ever lived—Jean-Pierre Rampal. This was a tour-de-force opportunity for Chinery, who teaches flute at the Hotchkiss School, that was well-worth attending.  

Shulman, who played in the Long Island Philharmonic for 36 years, spoke of London’s violinist and composer Richard Jones who died in 1740. Jones may have been the conductor in the pit for John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera when it opened in Drury Lane (1738).  This five-movement piece was decidedly French in texture with a staccato Sarabanda inserted into the middle. Jean-Baptiste Loeillet “of London” was also composing in the French tradition in four movements, yet this version was arranged by Alexandre Béon so that the first two movements entered the Romantic world, while the last two were movements which remained anchored in the eighteenth century. This Trio Sonata in B minor with four movements concluded with a spirited Allegro, the Adagio preceding it allowing Shulman to spotlight solo with gravitas. The last movement freighted memorable melody.

After the death of John Dowland (1626) and Henry Purcell (1695) most music was imported from the continent due to the dearth of good English composers. Late Baroque music was dominated by the French, just as the French literature and literature theory dominated English literature in the 18th century.

The Players concluded with C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in B minor, which permitted musicologist and keyboard player Smith, a student of Nadia Boulanger, to play two themes in tandem and to have separate dialogues with cello and then flute. There was an appreciative audience of two dozen attending. Perhaps this lively Music in the Annex series might continue to include classical music in the future.