Showing posts with label harpsichord. Show all posts
Showing posts with label harpsichord. Show all posts

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mélomanie Opens 23rd Season with "Personal" Performance

By Christine Facciolo
Mélomanie devoted the opening concert of the 2016-17 season — its 23rd — to the appreciation of the viola da gamba and its music.

The concert featured Mélomanie Executive Director and Co-Artistic Director Tracy Richardson on harpsichord and the ensemble’s virtuoso gambist Donna Fournier in performance at the Wilmington Friends School in Alapocas. The concert was titled “Up Close and Personal,” and that’s exactly what it was, with the audience seated on stage with the performers.

First things first: As Fournier pointed out, a viola da gamba is not a fretted cello, even though it may resemble one. A cello has four strings while a viol usually has six, like a guitar, or seven. But unlike a guitar, the viol’s frets are not permanently set, but rather made of gut and tied on, like a lute, and thus movable.

The viol is also tuned differently from the cello. Viols are tuned in fourths with a third between the third and fourth strings, just like a lute. Cellos are tuned in fifths. Viols are bowed like cellos but the bow is held underhand rather than overhand.  Another difference: The viol is much quieter than the cello. In fact, they were too quiet to be effective in large orchestras or big concert halls and fell out of favor after the 18th Century.

The program featured a sampling of works by the major gambist/composers, including Marin Marais, Carl Friedrich Abel, Tobias Hume, Gottfried Finger, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johannes Schenck. Contemporaries continuing the tradition included Mark Hagerty and Mark Rimple — the latter a former gamba student of Fournier and now a professor of Music Theory and Composition at West Chester University.

The program also featured a nice balance between solo works — including a recently discovered work by Telemann — and those with basso continuo.

And who better to deliver these works than Fournier, undoubtedly the most accomplished gambist in the region and quite possibly beyond.  Fournier’s tone is sumptuous; her intonation perfect.  The wistful notes and rich depth of the bow across the gamba were complemented by the distinctly sharper sounds of Richardson’s harpsichord.  And just when you thought Fournier couldn’t play any faster, louder or softer — she did!

Particularly arresting was Fournier’s and Richardson’s execution of the expressive lines of Marin Marais’ Suite in A Major.  The deliberate Prelude paved the way for the stately Allemande and the determined Chaconne.  Their rendering of Johannes Schenck’s Sonata No. 1 in D Minor was also expertly done, with the composer’s highly disparate stylistic palette played up to maximum effect. An equally vigorous delivery was given to Mark Hagerty’s Civilisation (2001), which imagined how Baroque might have been played in the 21st Century had not it taken a “wrong turn” in the 18th Century.

Fourier showed off her improvisatory skills in Abel’s Prelude in D Minor, and her technical virtuosity in Finger’s Divisions on a Ground and Mark Rimple’s contemporary Dementanz from Sonata Circumdederunt Me.  Her performance of A Question and an Answer by English eccentric Captain Tobias Hume was clever and witty.  Fournier also treated the audience to a performance of a recently discovered Fantasia by Telemann, applying herself to the wealth of musical ideas contained in the piece.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Bit of Musical Heaven, Courtesy of Brandywine Baroque

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

Brandywine Baroque topped off its 2014-2015 season as it has in years past with Harpsichord Heaven, a weekend festival featuring lectures and concerts by noted musicians and scholars from across the U.S. and Canada.

Brandywine Baroque founder and artistic director Karen Flint kicked off Saturday’s “marathon” with a concert of works by Jacques Champion de Chambonnieres, the founder of the French harpsichord school. Each of the 10 visiting harpsichordists then presented 40-minute concerts every hour on the hour. The day culminated with a Bach recital performed by British-born harpsichordist/scholar Davitt Moroney of the University of California at Berkeley.

But if you were pressed for time — or in the mood for something a bit more adventurous — Sunday’s Grande Finale performance was your ticket. This extravaganza brought all 10 musicians up front playing on five vintage harpsichords from The Flint Collection. The concert offered a cross-section of styles from across Europe, including Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy.

Particularly noteworthy were performances of two concerti for two harpsichords. Leon Schelhase and Luc Beausejour performed the Allegro movement of Joseph Schuster’s work in D major while husband and wife harpsichordists Gwendolyn Toth and Dongsok Shin offered the Allegro movement of Johann Gottlieb Graun’s composition in B-flat major.

Flint and Moroney reprised their performance of Nicholas Carleton’s Praeludium and a Verse in D for two to play. Only one part of the manuscript exists, so Moroney supplied his part, providing some interesting facts about the piece to the audience.

It was especially pleasing to hear Flint perform her arrangement of Lebegue’s Les Cloches. Although intended for organ, the composer noted that it was “suitable” for harpsichord, and the shimmering tones of the instrument certainly brought to mind church bells.

Twenty hands on five vintage harpsichords provided plenty of opportunities for performing transcriptions. These included the Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s Solomon, the Passsacaille from Handel’s opera Radimisto, and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major.

As always, there was a “surprise” in the final performance, and this year the musicians played their version of musical chairs to Handel’s 
Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah. At times, it sounded as if the audience was going to break out in a full-fledged Messiah sing- along. As with any game of musical chairs, one of the participants ultimately has nowhere to sit. Here that honor was bestowed on Arthur Haas  who rose to the occasion and “conducted” the final bars of the piece.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Dumont Concerts: Breathing Life into the Baroque

–by guest blogger, Jessica Graae

To enter the concert hall at the Barn at Flintwoods is to greet the Baroque era in all its gilded magnificence. Not only a performance and recording venue, the space houses a treasured private collection of antique harpsichords. The collection, ranging from several Ioannnes Ruckers models, a 1707 Nicholas Dumont and a Spanish-made harpsichord, has been carefully restored both mechanically and aesthetically. Each is meticulously decorated with pastoral scenes, flying cherubs, and even shrimp waiting patiently to be consumed. The most recent acquisition – a harpsichord made by Ruckers in 1627 – was unveiled at Brandywine Baroque’s Dumont Concerts, a weekend-long harpsichord “festival”, which concluded on Sunday, May 24.

The Dumont Concerts opened with a wonderful recital by Karen Flint, Artistic Director of Brandywine Baroque. She played several instruments in the collection, taking us on a musical journey both around the room and world. Striking is Ms. Flint’s knowledge of performance practice and musicology. Her program included two works by Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729), a composer and court musician for Louis XIV. Ms. Flint played these virtuosic, sometimes contemplative, movements with grace and skill. The evening ended with Davitt Moroney on the 1635 Ruckers harpsichord, joining Ms. Flint in a “four hands” duet by François Couperin (1668-1733).

Olivier Baumont performed a program entitled “Les Clavecinistes versaillais”. An exceptional artist and scholar, Mr. Baumont played works by eight different composers who performed at Versailles, including Couperin, Jean-Phillip Rameau, and an eight-year-old Mozart. After each piece, Mr. Baumont applauded the instrument he had played, reminding us how special and important each of the harpsichords is at the Barn at Flintwoods.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chris Braddock's duet

A couple of years ago, Tracy Richardson and I collaborated on a piece I’d written for dobro and harpsichord. It got a positive reaction when we performed it together at a Mélomanie concert. But I couldn’t figure out if that reaction was due to the real musical worth of the piece or rather the novelty of combining an American bluegrass instrument with a European classical one. The last thing any composer wants is to use a cheap gimmick to get applause.

Last year Tracy suggested doing another piece for that combination. It’s always great to work with Tracy, so I said, “Sure!” I’d been playing mandolin and enjoying it so much that I decided to write a duet for those two instruments. For one thing, the mandolin is a much easier instrument to play convincingly than the dobro.

And the combination makes sense. They’re both plucked, metal-string instruments. The project assumed greater legitimacy last fall, when my family and I visited Mount Vernon, the northern Virginia estate of George and Martha Washington. During the house tour, one walks past the music room. There were a harpsichord and a mandolin.

Like many composers, and especially guitarists, I have lots of little “riffs” in my head. These figures sound particularly good on the mandolin. So I assembled these segments into a coherent piece of music. The harpsichord part came after that.

Composers sometimes say they’re disappointed the first time they hear a piece rehearsed. Perhaps it’s hard to measure up to the version in their heads. That was not the case with my piece “Pluck.” Right away it seemed natural, spontaneous and full of energy.