Baroque bedrock

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

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

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