A pro­gram di­vided against it­self

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - — James M. Keller

Dur­ing the past few years, En­sem­ble Caprice, a pe­riod-in­stru­ment sex­tet based in Montreal, has been pro­mot­ing the idea that main­stream Re­nais­sance and Baroque com­posers may have de­rived in­spi­ra­tion from Gypsy mu­si­cians who were mi­grat­ing through Europe. On March 7, the group pre­sented its ar­gu­ment at the Duane Smith Au­di­to­rium in Los Alamos, through the aus­pices of the Los Alamos Con­cert As­so­ci­a­tion. It is be­yond dis­pute that many com­posers were aware of Gypsy mu­si­cians. The con­cert in­cluded, for ex­am­ple, an in­ter­minable dance suite ti­tled La Bella Zin­gara (The Beau­ti­ful Gypsy Woman) by the 17th­cen­tury Vi­en­nese com­poser Jo­hann Hein­rich Schmelzer and a set of polon­aises by the em­i­nent Ge­org Philipp Tele­mann, whose mem­oirs pro­claim his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Gypsy mu­sic. None­the­less, En­sem­ble Caprice seemed not to have enough ma­te­rial to flesh out an en­tire pro­gram on the Gypsy con­nec­tion, so that theme shared the bill with var­i­ous ar­range­ments of the fa­mous “La Folía,” set by the late-Re­nais­sance Span­ish mas­ter Diego Or­tiz, the early-Baroque Ital­ian lutenist An­drea Fal­conieri, and the om­nipresent An­to­nio Vi­valdi. By far the most in­trigu­ing items on the pro­gram were sev­eral tunes from the Uhrovska zbierka, a vol­ume of Gypsy melodies com­piled in Slo­vakia in 1730.

Whether there was much (or any) cross-fer­til­iza­tion in per­form­ing styles is a mat­ter of spec­u­la­tion, but En­sem­ble Caprice went only half­way in ex­plor­ing such pos­si­bil­i­ties. The group’s filled-out ar­range­ments of the Uhrovska zbierka pieces were imag­i­na­tive and un­bri­dled; their work in the more stan­dard reper­toire con­sid­er­ably less com­pelling. The en­sem­ble’s two recorder play­ers of­ten oc­cu­pied the spot­light, and they ran out of tricks while the con­cert was still young. Out­stand­ing work, how­ever, came from vi­o­lin­ist Olivier Brault and per­cus­sion­ist Ziya Tabassian; the lat­ter ex­tracted more mu­sic from a large frame drum than one would have thought pos­si­ble. At­tempts at touches of stag­ing were em­bar­rass­ingly awk­ward; mu­si­cians should re­ally en­list the aid of the­ater direc­tors in such mat­ters. In the end, the con­cert seemed to com­prise two par­al­lel events: a well-ex­e­cuted ethno-cross­over “con­cept pro­gram” in­volv­ing Gypsy style and a ren­der­ing of more main­stream works that fell far short of the best cur­rent stan­dards of his­tor­i­cally in­formed per­for­mance.

En­sem­ble Caprice

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