The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented a smorgasbord of Baroque delights this past Tuesday night. Consonant with the season, these were primarily upbeat, joyful pieces, which is, in general, the contagious pleasure of Baroque music.
They opened with Johnann Joachim Quantz’s Concerto No. 161 in G major for Flute, Strings, and Continuo, QV 5:174 (c. 1745). While Boccherini wrote more cello pieces than any other Baroque composer, Quantz has the record for flute pieces; he even redesigned the flute to play D#. This was a showcase piece for Sooyun Kim to display circular breathing and hit those high notes that do something special to the listener’s cortex. The supporting ensemble was merely background in three movements: fast, slow, fast as in Vivaldi’s formula and even sounding like a Vivaldi piece with Sooyun Kim displaying how a featured flute could play rings around the Vivaldi-like ensemble.
George Frideric Handel’s “Eternal Source of Light Divine” from Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne for Soprano, Trumpet, Strings, and Continuo (1713) featured Brandon Ridenour on trumpet as Handel displayed where Purcell had left off and let Handel go further. The brass gap between Purcell and Handel is amazing—it was filled for over century by mostly French flute music. An alternating duet between trumpet and voice, sung by soprano Joélle Harvey, this excerpt delivered robust joy.
J.S. Bach’s Aria No. 1 “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” from Cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen for Soprano,Trumpet, Strings, and Continuo, BWV 51 (1730) permitted cellist Efe Baltacigil to be more notable in the ensemble.
Handel’s “Per te lasciai la luce” and “Un pensiero voli in ciel” from Il delirio amoroso for Soprano, Flute, Strings, and Continuo, HWV 99 (1707), written in Italy, offered Harvey another opportunity to display her passionate interpretations of lieder, for which she is becoming quite famous. In fact, most of this concert was a showcase for her singing abilities which are remarkable.
After intermission Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor for Bassoon, Strings, and Continuo, RV 497 (after 1720) permitted Marc Goldberg on bassoon to glory in solos and highlights. More than once, I have had people tell me that all Vivaldi “sounds the same,” which I hotly contest. Yes, Vivaldi often resorts to climbing a staircase of notes, only to run back down the staircase half way as if he forgot something, but he varies this effect often with sudden stops, something that Haydn and Mozart later picked up and playfully, sometimes teasingly, employed. And I say what about those 1/16th notes on the violin? It takes a wizard violinist to withstand and make lyrical those runs without cheating with a 1/8th note. Luckily, Erin Keefe was up to this task, yet what makes this piece so outstanding is the lyrical, haunting, mournful beauty of the bassoon in the second movement which Goldberg caught.
Handel’s Armida abbandonata for Soprano, Two Violins, and Continuo, HWV 105, is a stand-alone set piece from an episode based upon Torquato Tasso’s epic Jerusalem Liberated (1581). This, too, was written in Italy in 1707 and was perhaps inspired by Lully’s opera on that subject. This was the longest piece on the program and allowed Harvey to dominate in two arias and two recitatives. Fancisco Fullana on violin was allowed his inning here. It felt like Harvey was a one-person opera in action.
Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Samson for Soprano, Trumpet, Strings, and Continuo, HWV 57 (1741-42), was based upon John Milton’s closet drama, Samson Agonistes which he wrote in hot fury after completing his famous Messiah. Once more this was a duet between Harvey and Ridenour with both even competing on the same note simultaneously. This was the concert’s crescendo—and it received the loudest and most gratified applause of the evening.
Returning to a rather early Vivaldi masterpiece, Concerto in D major for Violin, Strings, and Continuo, RV 208, “Grosso Mogul” (c. 1710), Erin Keefe on violin was let loose to lyrically insert as many 1/16th notes into cadenza runs as she could juggle in breathless, astonishing runs. (By the way, Vivaldi invented the cadenza, often optional and only sometimes written.) There were plenty of tempo variations and “tricks” here to open the ears of the most blasé Baroque derider. Long live Handel and Vivaldi!—that was the motto of this exquisite miscellany. Double bassist Xavier Foley, who played non-stop throughout each number, had a chance to be in the thick of this wonderful piece and he shone brightly. Kristin Lee’s violin on the last two pieces also played a delicious role.
But I’ve left something important and fundamental out: Kenneth Weiss played harpsichord on every number and laid down the tempo for everyone. Weiss played thrice more notes than anyone. (He spent the twenty minutes on intermission tuning his harpsichord—the joke about harpsichord players is that they spend more time tuning their instrument than playing their instrument.) Weiss delivered that golden background that makes Baroque music so exalted when the going is good, and it was certainly more than good this Tuesday, winter night of infectious joy!