The Baroque Holy Week concert offered by the Santa Fe Pro Music Baroque Ensemble in three performances at Loretto Chapel struck a winning balance of top-flight repertoire, technically accomplished music-making, and an emotional pitch appropriate to the season. Playing on Baroquestyle instruments, the seven instrumentalists tended toward dark, densely blended timbres, naturally extending the sound world defined by the ensemble’s bass parts. We typically find the group’s keyboard player, Kathleen McIntosh, seated at a harpsichord, but here she employed a chamber organ for a sober continuo realization that provided warmth and depth rather than sparkle. This placed extra responsibility on her continuo partner, the cellist Myron Lutzke, who defined the cutting edge of the bass line with clarity, subtlety, and personality. It may seem perverse to focus first on the basso continuo part, but many a performance of Baroque music has suffered for being constructed on a less-than-firm foundation. Here the art of the bass was exceptionally well accomplished.
The upper parts were excellent, too. Flutist Carol Redman was “first among equals” in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite in B minor, supplying precise intonation, rich timbre, and impressive stamina. This is the second of what are popularly called the composer’s four Orchestral Suites. That term, which Bach did not use, sits uneasily on this work, which stands with one foot planted in the chamber tradition while glancing ahead toward later orchestral practice. Using only six players, one to a part, Pro Musica’s forces underscored the chamber feel of this succession of courtly dance movements. Their interpretation, however, was not courtly in the jolly sense of Old King Cole and his fiddlers three. Instead, this was — as promised — chamber music for Holy Week, and even the concluding Badinerie was crafted to be more serious than sprightly.
Violinist Stephen Redfield was the adept soloist in the 15th of the so-called “Rosary Sonatas” by the 17-century Salzburg composer Heinrich Biber. It’s the last in a series of works he crafted to encourage meditation on esoteric mysteries, in this case “The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.” Biber’s phrases can seem idiosyncratic, but Redfield plotted their progress carefully, with admirable aplomb. He was joined by violinist Daniel Brandt for a polished go at a Handel trio sonata (op. 2, no. 4), in which distinctive flashes of inspiration slyly interrupted Palladian poise.
The concert’s second half was given over to Bach’s Cantata No. 199, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut,” featuring soprano Kathryn Mueller as the pure-voiced soloist. Though it wasn’t conceived as a Holy Week cantata — Bach wrote it in Weimar for an August Sunday in 1714 — its somber sentiments seemed entirely appropriate for the occasion. He later transposed and re-orchestrated the piece for use in Leipzig, and Pro Musica’s performance (if my ears caught it right) was a hybrid of the two versions, using the orchestration of the former (including an unusual instance of obbligato viola, played by Gail Robertson) and the opening key of the latter (D minor), which would have been especially idiomatic for the oboe obbligatos rendered gorgeously by Thomas O’Connor. Rather than convey the horror that Bach-era Lutherans found so compelling (“Oh! unheard-of pain! My withered heart will be moistened by no comfort.”), Mueller hewed to more beatific tastefulness, which was no cause for complaint.
— James M. Keller