Thursday, March 22, 2018

Voices & Viols Filled The Barn at Flintwoods

By Christine Facciolo

First appearing in Spain in the 15th Century, the viola da gamba — or viol — was a most popular instrument in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, holding an honored position even in the court of the Sun King. But by the mid-18th Century, the viol fell out of favor as concert halls grew larger and the more penetrating sound of the violin family became more popular.

The viol attracts little attention today, even though the 1991 film Tous les Matins du Monde about two of the greatest composers for the instrument, Marin Marais and Saint-Colombe, and a number of contemporary composers have written for it.

But the rich sounds of this once princely instrument were duly showcased in Brandywine Baroque’s March 16-18 concerts, “Voices and Viols.”

Joining Brandywine Baroque Artistic Director Karen Flint on vintage harpsichord were violists Catharina Meints, John Mark Rosendaal, Donna Fournier, and Rebecca Humphrey Diederich, flutist Eileen Grycky, soprano Laura Heimes and tenor Tony Boutte.

Meints pointed out that she and Flint had been friends for a very long time because of their passion for collecting period instruments. Meints then proudly displayed her treble viol, which dates back to 1700 and is, remarkably, in virtually the same condition it was when it was first made.

England boasts a very rich history of viol composition and performance, more than likely inspired and encouraged by the royal patronage of Henry VIII, and that tradition was well-represented in the first half of the program as the consort accompanied songs by William Byrd, Henry Lawes and Thomas Morley.

Songs from the French Baroque made up the second half of the program with selections by Michel Lambert, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Etienne Moulinie.

Heimes delivered the clear, unadorned vocal quality and needle-sharp intonation that has earned her respect and admiration. Here in consort with the viol she offered heartfelt, vibrant performances that effectively portrayed the texts without losing touch with the songs lovely vocal characteristics. Standouts included Byrd’s My Mistress Had a Little Dog and Lambert’s Ombre de mon amant.

Tony Boutte’s tenor was pure and emotional, breathing much life into songs like Byrd’s Though Amaryllis Dance in Green and Moulinie’s Enfin la beaute.

Heimes and Boutte delivered some delightful — and expressive — duets, including Henry Lawes’ A Dialogue Upon a Kiss and The Mossy Bank.

The instrumentalists gave imaginative accounts of William Lawes’ Airs in C, Nos. 113 and 109. Flint and flutist Grycky explored the rich textures and dense tapestry of ornaments in the Prelude, Courante and Gaillard in G minor from Jean Henry D’Anglebert’s Pieces de clavecin (1689). The ensemble concluded the concert with a lively rendering of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Concert pour quatre parties de violes.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Candlelight's "Drowsy Chaperone" Will Leave You Anything But

By Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ year veteran of community theater and retired from DuPont.

Remarkably, as a musical theater geek, I was unfamiliar with The Drowsy Chaperone. Sure, I’d heard of it and was aware that the protagonist was “Man In Chair." But I didn’t know the songs, the plot or anything.

Well I’m a good student, so I Googled a synopsis of the plot the day before. I figured, as a reviewer, my responsibility was to review the production on stage, not the show itself. If I were trying to figure out the plot, I might be distracted from the production I was tasked to review. 

Connor McAndrews as "Man in Chair" in The Drowsy Chaperone.
Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe.
As it turns out, the plot is both familiar and joyously random, so one has no choice but to focus on the production and just go along with the ride.

And what a ride it is! The Drowsy Chaperone actually refers to a fictional 1928 show within a show (or rather “a musical within a comedy” as the tagline says) which features a cornucopia of stock characters from the heyday of American musical theater. This includes the self-absorbed romantic leads (Kevin Dietzler and Audrey Simmons); the very wealthy, very dim matron (Lindsay Mauck) and her long-suffering butler (Anthony Connell); the heavily accented Latin lover (Topher Layton); a pair of gangsters straight from central casting (Victoria Healy and Max Redman) and many others.

These characters must be played in broad vaudevillian style, vocally and physically. And every member of this cast delivers. There are invigorating showcase numbers, such as  Simmons in Show Off, Layton in I Am Aldolpho as well as Dietzler and Shaun Yates tap dancing through Cold Feet

Tiffany Christopher shines as the Drowsy Chaperone herself with As We Stumble Along, described as a “rousing anthem about alcoholism." But what thrilled me even more was when the entire ensemble displayed exquisitely coordinated comic timing. These moments were liberally sprinkled throughout, but a particular dropped cane bit in Act II deserves special mention. The choreography is stylistically spot on and superbly executed. My highest compliment to a show is that it is “tight." Kudos to Director/Choreographer Peter John Rios.

And so we come to "Man in Chair" (although, as my companion remarked, he spends very little time actually sitting in the chair). On the surface, Man is the quintessential wide-eyed uber-fan of musical theater, and Connor McAndrews enthusiastically invites us to share his joy and passion. But there’s also a great deal below the surface. While he seeks escapism via his favorite musical, he cannot avoid the encroachment of the less ideal reality of his life. With a masterfully nuanced performance, McAndrews more than meets this challenge. He engenders warm affection for his character, which makes the somewhat surreal final scene all the more affecting.

The production values are impressive. Jeff Reim’s clever set seamlessly transforms from a somewhat dingy New York apartment to multiple rooms of a mansion in the Hamptons. Timothy Lamont Cannon’s costumes and Lisa Miller Challenger’s wigs & hair transport us to 1928 society. Light and sound cues are intricate and demand split-second timing, so hats off to the operators in the booth.

In sum, The Drowsy Chaperonemuch like the Marx Brothers comedies on which it is loosely modelled  is a madcap, raucous laugh-riot not to be missed!


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Two Harpsichords, Two Guest Artists, One Premiere & "Catch 1"

By Christine Facciolo

Mélomanie’s concerts just keep getting better and better. Not that this innovative ensemble — that looks both to the past and to the future — ever delivers anything short of sheer excellence. But Sunday’s concert at The Delaware Contemporary knocked it out of the park with a World Premiere, the graphic notation of Polish composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, two guest artists as well as some delightful selections from the Baroque era.

The ensemble opened the concert with an extremely well-polished and impeccably precise rendering of the Chaconne from Marin Marais’ Suite 1 in C major (from Pieces en trio 1692).

Mélomanie performs with guest artists Matthew Bengtson & Chris Braddock.
Photo by Tim Bayard.
Harpsichordist Tracy Richardson then joined composer Christopher Braddock on the octave mandolin for a performance of Pluck, a piece that Braddock wrote in 2009 — a time when Braddock said he had far less personal responsibilities.

Braddock explained that he chose the instrument because it produces some of the low-end heft of the guitar along with the fiddle-like bounce of the mandolin, making it the perfect vehicle for Pluck with its idiomatic folk-style writing.

It was most interesting and entertaining to hear Richardson and the harpsichord take to the folk medium like second nature.

The highlight of the first half of the program, though, was Haubenstock-Ramati’s Catch 1 (1968) for two harpsichords adapted in Caught (2018) by Mark Hagerty. It’s doubtful that many in the audience ever heard anything by this composer since discs documenting his work are quite rare.

Haubenstock-Ramati’s aim was to move musicians far beyond what he perceived to their comfort zone of conventional notation. Yet the question of how to interpret his pictorial images remains. Hagerty’s realization features notated passages and snippet that can be freely selected and varied by the interpreters — in this case, Richardson and guest artist Matthew Bengtson — in response to the graphic notation.

It’s doubtful that anyone in the audience had ever heard music like this before. The experience would have been complete had there not been a technological glitch that prevented concertgoers from seeing the actual notation. Nevertheless, this was truly “music for the moment,” as Hagerty urged audience member to listen without regard to what came before or what was to follow.

Following intermission, Bengtson offered two selections from Pieces de Clavecin by Armand-Louis Couperin, cousin of the more famous Francois. Armand-Louis’ work is generally not considered as sophisticated as Louis’ but it is attractive and full of personality. Bengtson interpreted “L’Afflige” and “L’Intrepide” with sensitivity and intelligence. He was particularly successful in keeping Couperin’s rhythms flexible without distorting them and without sacrificing spontaneity.

Bengtson then rejoined Richardson for a vivid, imaginative performance of the Duetto I in C major for two harpsichords by Christoph Schaffrath, an important harpsichordist and composer in the court of Frederick the Great. Both were impressive in their execution of these demanding keyboard parts.

The concert concluded with the World Premiere of Braddock’s Hooks & Crooks, which the composer explained was written during a series of family vacations at various locales. Scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba and guitar, the work showed Braddock to be a flexible, eclectic composer with a sense of humor. The ensemble played with customary vitality and color as the music faded like a summer memory.