The Sherman Ensemble performed their annual Best of Baroque concert in Pawling at Christ Church, Norman Vincent Peale’s attractive summer church on Quaker Hill this past Saturday afternoon. They began with Antonio Vivaldi’s Sonata in E minor, no.1 for cello and harpsichord. On cello Eliot Bailen bestowed convincing gravitas on the two slow Largos that provided vivid contrast to the lively, dancing Allegros. Young Dylan Sauerwald on harpsichord provided refreshing fluidity and apt rhythmic lightness. The cello in winter offers such resonant, welcoming warmth that my mind could not help leaping forward to the long list of notable Russian cello players and pieces, yet the fuse to this tradition was set by Vivaldi.
The full ensemble appeared in force for J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor where everyone played with lively intensity; flautist Susan Rotholz excelled in tone, force, and nuance while Sarah Adams on viola inserted subtle textures.
Bailen produced a new arrangement of William Blake’s “Jerusalem,” customarily played on organ in a 1916 arrangement of the hymn version by Sir Hubert Parry that was requested by the poet Robert Bridges. For the third verse Bailen arranged a cello solo for this attractive melody where all players joined for the final hopeful verse. Blake’s poem, based upon apocrypha that imagined Jesus had travelled to England, asks several probing questions about England, portrayed as a hell of “dark Satanic mills,” which was once a pastoral heaven (Jerusalem). Blake asserts a mental fight to bring England back to its spiritual and pastoral heritage. Parry’s lovely melody received expert novel treatment that may have legs. The arrangement was dedicated to Reverend Roger White who wrote the program notes.
The influence of Archangelo Corelli remains larger than the Germanic world usually admits. I was glad to see his Sonata da Chiesa, Op. 3, No. 4 in B minor on the program, yet this was the least successful number in the program due to the thinness of the two violins attempting to finesse high notes on modern violins. Sauerwald offered solid backup on continuo.
Every program saves the best for last (and in this case the most difficult). J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 offered an awesome climax where all players melded in unison with newcomer Sauerwald offering an exciting solo run on harpsichord. Violinists Michael Roth and Doori Na were at their best here with Peter Weitzner on double bass providing deep foundation.
The attendees, numbering about 160, were treated to a reception with pastries and hot cider.