Tuesday, October 10, 2017
By Christine Facciolo
If it were possible to gather together composers — both living and dead — and ask them who they thought was the greatest composer of all time, chances are one name would surface more than others: J.S. Bach. And with good reason. Bach is one of the few — maybe the only — composer to succeed in combining masterful craftsmanship with such profound expressivity.
TheMusic School of Delaware used the artistry of J.S. Bach to say thank you to its patrons for their generosity on Wednesday, October 4, as it opened another season of its Music Masters Concert Series with an all-Bach program.
Maestro Simeone Tartaglione led a 15-member chamber orchestra comprised of music school faculty and guest artists.
Tartaglione bookended the program with two works from Bach’s most imaginative and celebrated oeuvre: the Brandenburg Concertos. The concert opened with a formidable rendering of the short but robust third Brandenburg. Bach composed two substantial movements for this work, leaving the players to improvise a transitional movement, for which he provided only two chords.
Tartaglione and his players executed the Allegro movements at an authentically robust tempo. Bach’s contrapuntal mastery was vividly brought out by this ensemble that interacted with each other like the cooperative soloists Bach intended them to be.
Concerto No. 5, however, makes demands on the harpsichord soloist that far exceeds anything else in the repertoire. As Tartaglione pointed out, this work is, for all intents and purposes, the first keyboard concerto.
Bach gives the harpsichord (here in the capable hands of Tracy Richardson) a most unusual role: it starts out playing a basso continuo, proceeds to play solo melodies in dialogue with the flute (Dr. Lynne Cooksey) and violin (Christof Richter) and then gets carried away with virtuosic scales that leave the others in the dust. Richardson delivered with great panache and rhythmic sensibility, showing what top-tier musicianship can bring to a familiar work.
Christof Richter soloed in a polished performance of the Violin Concerto in E Major. The opening is Bach at his sunniest, and Richter and the group exuded pure joy as they eased into the mellow mood this music demands. The expressive Adagio was exquisite as it contrasted a dark intensity with moments of golden light. The finale was cheerful and full of energy.
Dr. Lynne Cooksey was equally impressive in the Suite No. 2 in B Minor. Cooksey played with style and agility, executing the piece’s fast passages with note-perfect ease, playing a lovely duet with the cello in the sixth-movement Polonaise, producing lovely sighing effects in the Menuett and pulling out all the stops in the appropriately fast final-movement Badinerie, earning her a round of enthusiastic applause from the very appreciative audience.
Monday, October 9, 2017
By Christine Facciolo
founding artistic director of Brandywine Baroque, harpsichordist Flint
consistently presents programs that feature works by the well-known and
not-so-well-known — though no less worthy — composers of the period. Moreover, her
collection of rare (and playable) harpsichords draws devotees and scholars from
around the country and the world to the Centreville venue, The Barn at
There’s no denying Karen Flint’s contribution to the cultural life of our region.
|Brandywine Baroque orchestra members rehearse "The Woodman." |
Photo courtesy of Brandywine Baroque.
Flint and company opened the 2017-18 season with a performance of as rare a gem as any: The Woodman (1791) by English opera composer William Shield. This all-but-forgotten work is so obscure that Flint and fellow harpsichordist Janine Johnson had to prepare an orchestration from a piano/vocal reduction, the only existing score for the opera.
Shield is one of those composers whose legacy history seems to have erased. Born in 1748 in Swalwell, Shield arrived in London in 1772 to play the violin in the Coven Garden Orchestra. In 1791, he met Haydn who attended a performance of The Woodman. That meeting inspired him to compose more operas and stage works. Shield’s work as a composer got him noticed in royal circles and in 1817 he was appointed “Master of the King’s Musick.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Shield looked toward folk music for source material. In
fact, it was once thought that he wrote Auld Lang Syne, the melody of which appears toward the end of the overture to his Rosina opera. It is now thought that both he and Burns borrowed the melody — or at least the outline of it — from an old folk tune.
Shield’s work is considered to be the forerunner of the modern musical comedy. The Woodman contains features associated with later English comic opera, including spoken dialogue, a frothy theme and the use of popular and folk melodies. The music is pastoral, even bubbly, with flashes of coloratura.
The plot is a madcap thicket of love found, lost and recovered. Emily (Laura Heimes) has fallen in love with Wilford (Stephen Ng) but his nasty uncle does not approve and sends him off to Europe. When Wilford returns, Emily has fled to the forest where three other men fall in love with her. Mistaken identities and all sorts of mischief follow in this lively romp through the woods capped off by a female archery contest for a price heifer.
Flint assembled a stellar cast of singers and musicians for this superb rendering of this woefully overlooked gem. Heimes is vocally striking — as usual — in her portrayal of Emily. Ng brings a full-bodied tenor and lovelorn urgency to Wilford, her lost love.
Bass Daniel Schwartz excelled in his portrayal of the upright and kindly Fairlop, the woodman, while sopranos Abigail Chapman and Rebecca Mariman were convincing as his daughters, the steady Dolly and coquettish Polly, respectively.
Baritone James Wilson played the lecherous Sir Walter to the hilt accompanied by his ever-loyal sidekick Medley in the capable hands and voice of tenor Andrew Fuchs.Tenor Lawrence Jones displayed a much misplaced confidence as he assisted Wilford in his quest to find Emily.
But it was countertenor Augustine Mercante, wigged in bight orange ringlets, who elicited the most laughter in his portrayal of Miss Dinah “Di” Clackit. Mercante not only possesses a sumptuous voice but also impeccable comedic timing that never missed a beat.
Musicians from the ensemble also took part in the action with non-singing roles: flutist
Eileen Grycky, violist Amy Leonard, double bassist Heather Miller Landin served as archers (Grycky also played Bridget the maid). Violinists Martin Davids and Edward Huizinga played Filbert, the Gardener and Bob, respectively.
Imaginative costumes and props transported the audience from Centreville to an 18th Century English forest.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
|Harpsichordist Tracy Richardson and Violinist Christof Richter |
of Mélomanie. Photo by Tim Bayard.
Mélomanie members Christof Richter (violin) and Tracy Richardson (harpsichord) combined their talents to showcase the versatility of the violin in a program that featured works by the well-know, the not-so-well-known and the downright quirky. The concert, called 'Up Close & Personal: The Violin,' took place on Saturday, September 30, at Old Town Hall in downtown Wilmington.
Despite the role it plays in the modern orchestra and the repertoire that’s grown up around it, the violin was considered a “low-brow” instrument, played largely from memory throughout the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. But once written music appeared, the violin became a major driver in the development of instrumental music as a whole.
Saturday’s performance opened with a performance of Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Partita 6 in D Major for solo violin. Unlike his contemporary Heinrich Biber, little attention has been paid to von Westhoff. But lesser-known hardly means insignificant. In fact, it is very likely that von Westhoff met J.S. Bach during their time in Weimar, and that these Partitas were a direct inspiration for Bach to compose his sonatas and partitas for solo violin.
Richter performed with a natural and effortless charm, concluding with an exhilarating reading of the Gigue.
Heinrich Biber — von Westhoff’s more famous contemporary — was represented with a performance of Sonata 4 in D Minor (The Presentation) from his Rosary Sonatas. This ever-intriguing work is the finest example of Biber’s exploration of scordatura, alternate tunings of the violin strings that produce otherworldly sonic textures and performance challenges. The Presentation is a chaconne and variations tuned to D minor. Tuning the top string down a step and the bottom string up one produced an alto-like quality, where one would expect soprano brilliance. Richter’s execution of these blazing virtuosic variations was breathtaking, making the listener long for a full performance of this work.
The Italian Baroque was represented by Biagio Marini’s Romanesca Variations and Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in G Minor (The Devil’s Trill). “Romanesca” is actually a song form popular in the period 1550-1650, characterized by a sequence of four chords which form the groundwork for improvisation (think: Greensleeves). The work consists of four variations and two dances, the gagliarda and corrente. Richter and Richardson took a spirited approach with regard to tempo and meter long before the dance variations impose triple meter toward the end.
Richter imbued Tartini’s Sonata with the appropriate pyrotechnics: delicate turns and swift runs, dark moods, commanding multiple stops and double-note trills. And while the work can be performed solo, the inclusion of the continuo added depth and harmonic texture.
Richter and Richardson made a fine duo in Mozart’s Sonata in G Major (KV 301). Richter’s intonation is always exact and his articulation in the fastest passages clear and precise. These sterling qualities were matched by Richardson’s accompaniment on harpsichord, which she notes was still in use alongside the up-and-coming fortepiano during this time.
No Mélomanie concert would be complete without some contemporary offerings. In an afternoon of surprises, there were some pretty interesting choices. Schnittke’s Suite in Old Style is a wry nod to the Baroque — actually a pre-Classical-style pastiche of movements drawn from the composer’s film scores. Unlike a true Baroque suite, though, there is little for the soloist to show-off. Richter brought a fragile delicacy to the final movement, Pantomime, the only movement performed in this program.
Richter and Richardson offered yet another interesting piece from a most marginalized 20th Century composer, Josef Matthias Hauer. Hauer’s claim to fame (or infamy) is that he developed his own 12-tone system, publishing his findings in 1919 slightly ahead of rival Schoenberg. But whereas Schoenberg manipulated tone rows, Hauer based his atonality on systematically organized chords.
Toward the end of his life, Hauer wrote a collection of short (the longest runs five minutes) pieces called Zwolftonspiel, literally 12-tone games. Richter and Richardson collaborated on the one dated 26 August, 1948. This music is a welcome respite from the angular tones of Schoenberg’s serialism, and Richter and Richardson captured its joy and playfulness in this very capable rendering.