Saturday, July 18, 2009

Baroque concertos gone wild at Chamber Music Northwest

Chamber Music Northwest went all out for its Baroque Concerto Night program on Thursday (July 17), presenting five concertos for viola, two cellos, harpsichord, oboe d’amore, and flute. A very full house at Kaul Auditorium absorbed a full dose of music by Telemann, Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach by a variety of ensembles, which drew from a pool of ten top-notch musicians.

The highlight of the evening was a stunning performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos, Strings and Continuo. Cello soloists Colin Carr and Joshua Gindele delved into the challenging musical dialog with gusto. They matched volume and phrasing brilliantly and the echoing passages and devil-may-care runs up and down the fingerboard were outstanding.

Members of the string ensemble, who rounded out Vivaldi’s music with a gorgeous additional texture were double bassist Curtis Daily, violinists Daniel Ching and Tereza Stanislav, and violist John Largess (Ching, Stanislav, Largess, and Gindele are the Miró Quartet). Harpsichordist John Gibbons added a superb continuo throughout the three movements of the concerto.

The evening concert opened with Telemann’s Concerto in G Major for Viola, Stings, and Continuo, featuring Toby Appel as the viola soloist. Whether creating a stately impression in the slower movements or displaying fleet fingerwork in the faster ones, Appel performed with elegance and total commitment. His rich tone enveloped the hall with positive energy, and every note that he created was expressive and thoughtful.

As Appel’s backup band, the string ensemble and continuo (the Miró Quartet plus Daily and Gibbons) embroidered Appel’s sound delightfully. The ensemble knew when to add to the mix and when to retreat into the background.

The first half of the program came to a close with Handel’s Concerto in D Minor for Harpsichord, String, and Continuo, Op. 7, No. 4. Before this piece started, Gibbons told the audience that Handel had written into the score that the solo harpsichord should improvise some transitional music between some of the movements. Handel apparently wrote in the score “make it up.”

Gibbons is not one who needs encouragement in matters of improvisation and he added some extended riffs that amounted to an extra movement or two. In effect Gibbons made the piece exciting and fresh. He was aided and abetted by the Miró Quartet , Daily, and Appel.

Following intermission, we heard Bach’s “Concerto in A Major for Oboe d’amore, Strings, and Continuo (BWV 1055R) with Allan Vogel as the soloist. Vogel’s sound and breath control was astonishing. He could spool out miles of beautiful music with breathtaking agility. Yet the volume level was mezzo forte to forte and that dulled the piece a bit. The support team: Daily, Appel, Stanislav, Largess, cellist Fred Sherry, and Gibbons should’ve pulled back on the volume.

The performance of Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B Minor for Flute, Strings, and Continuo (BWV 1067) suffered a tad more because the mellifluous sound from the soloist, Ransom Wilson, was overwhelmed at times by the string ensemble and continuo (Ching, Appel, Largess, Sherry, Daily, and Gibbons). The incredibly fast pace in the final number, “Badinerie,” was mind boggling and technically perfect, except that Wilson’s sound got buried by the strings.

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