The program started off with a delightful rendering of Telemann’s Paris Quartet 3 in G Major. A description of the performance can be found in the titles of the movements themselves: Gracieusement, Vite, Gai. Gracious and spirited are exactly the qualities this music requires — and what the ensemble delivered.
Flutist Kimberly Reighley played a magical Baroque flute, rich in tone with spot-on intonation. She blended perfectly with Christof Richter’s violin, making their intertwining lines an endless source of listening pleasure. Gambist Donna Fournier supplied a judicious bass line: prominent where needed yet merging seamlessly with Tracy Richardson’s sublimely supportive harpsichord.
In a rare treat, Richardson soloed in a World Premiere of Michael Stambaugh’s Suite for Harpsichord. Stambaugh is a rising young (b.1990) Philadelphia-based composer whose unfettered imagination shows that an 18th Century instrument has just as much to say in the 21st Century.
The work — written during the summer — unfolds in four short movements (a fifth is being reworked): The Machine Comes to Life, A Mischievous Prelude, A Light Dance and Invention. Opening with a blizzard of notes and fluctuant harmonies and rhythms, the piece is a whimsical mélange of jazz, rock, heavy metal and funk which, oddly enough, did not seem so far removed from the 17th Century. One audience member thought it quasi-programmatic, as it followed the path of a machine from its “birth” to its taking on human characteristics and capabilities — a notion that surprised and intrigued the composer.
The playing was often difficult and taxing, but Richardson was superb and her efforts were appreciatively received by the audience.
The history of Western music is littered with tales of lost masterpieces and what-might-have-beens. Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657-1714) became one of those unfortunates when in 1736 when all but 70 of his 1000 compositions were destroyed in a fire at the court library at Rudolstadt.
The Sonata 5 in E Minor is just one of six sonatas to survive. As was common for the time, it was scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. But Erlebach’s sonatas differ from those of his contemporaries in that he gives the viola da gamba a genuinely independent part. In addition, Erlebach aims for a mixture of German, Italian and French styles: the dance movements being mainly Italian while German polyphony dominates the opening and closing movements.
Violinist Richter and gambist Fournier exhibited a deep appreciation for the strong character of this sonata, and their performance offered a pleasing and effective balance in their dialogues.
The concert closed with the Promenades for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. Written between 1937 and 1944, the piece reflects the composer’s reaction to the horrors of World War II. The work opens calmly enough with a Bach-like allegro and air but then morphs into a sinister scherzo and a bitter, edgy finale. Reighley is impressive, playing with the precision and pristine quality she’s noted for, yet somehow managing to deliver a strident tone the music demanded.