A program divided against itself
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.