Lis­ten Up

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James M. Keller re­views pre-Christ­mas con­certs by the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque Ensem­ble and the Per­for­mance Santa Fe Orchestra

Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque Ensem­ble The Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque Ensem­ble’s an­nual pre-Christ­mas con­certs at Loretto Chapel tend to fol­low a pre­dictable for­mat, pur­vey­ing reper­toire that plays to the group’s strengths and the au­di­ence’s expectations. This year’s in­stall­ment, which the in­dus­tri­ous mu­si­cians per­formed 12 times in six days — I caught the early show on Dec. 22 — opened with a spir­ited ac­count of Han­del’s D-ma­jor Con­certo Grosso (Op. 6, No. 5). It reached its apex in the penul­ti­mate move­ment, an Al­le­gro the play­ers in­vested with en­joy­able sparkle and more than a lit­tle drama. A lit­tle-known Vi­valdi motet fol­lowed: Longe mala, um­brae, ter­rores (RV 629), which be­gins by enu­mer­at­ing all man­ner of ills that be­set the world (wars, plagues, rages, weapons, and so on) and then ex­presses hope that heaven will sweep them away and spread light on the land — a sen­ti­ment re­in­forced by a con­clud­ing aria con­sist­ing only of re­peated bursts of “Al­leluia.” Such a strange piece it is; the tal­ly­ing of woes at the start nat­u­rally in­vites a somber set­ting in the mi­nor mode, but it is hard to imag­ine why Vi­valdi was in­spired to stay in the mi­nor for the last move­ment. I won­der if an­other mi­nor-key “Al­leluia” set­ting ex­ists. More stead­fastly cheer­ful was a sec­ond Vi­valdi piece, As­cende laeta. Mezzo-so­prano Drea Press­ley was the soloist in both motets, of which the first makes ex­trav­a­gant col­oratura de­mands. She also sang four carols of olden times, which were most suc­cess­ful when their ar­range­ments en­hanced the cen­tral spirit of the song — that is to say, in a vi­va­cious ren­der­ing of “Pat­a­pan,” in which the vi­o­list beat on her in­stru­ment as if it were a drum, and es­pe­cially the Wex­ford Carol, in which the in­stru­men­tal ensem­ble kept things sim­ple and sup­port­ive.

The con­cert stretched be­yond the Baroque into the early Clas­si­cal pe­riod thanks to an “Ada­gio and Ron­deaux” for flute, strings, and or­gan by Jo­hann Chris­tian Bach. One wished the printed pro­gram had iden­ti­fied this mu­sic more pre­cisely. The so-called “Ron­deaux” is cer­tainly the fi­nale of the com­poser’s D-ma­jor Flute Con­certo (CW C79), from 1769; what the Ada­gio is drawn from I can­not say. Rather than pro­vide de­tails about the piece, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing

Vi­valdi’s motet Longe mala, um­brae,

ter­rores (RV 629) be­gins by enu­mer­at­ing all man­ner of ills

that be­set the world.

pro­gram note spoke of Mozart’s ad­mi­ra­tion for this youngest of Jo­hann Se­bas­tian’s sons. In­deed, one was struck by how much this el­e­gant work re­sem­bled Mozart’s mu­sic of sev­eral years later, from about 1775 through 1778 — the works that carry Köchel num­bers in the 200s. The piece rep­re­sented the mu­si­cal high-wa­ter mark in the con­cert. Carol Red­man, play­ing an 18th-cen­tury-style flute, ren­dered the Ada­gio with broad phrases and sur­pass­ing grace, and she in­fused the pas­sage­work of the “Ron­deaux” with war­bling jol­lity.

Per­for­mance Santa Fe Orchestra An­other re­li­able en­try in the city’s sea­sonal cal­en­dar is the Christ­mas Eve con­cert with the Per­for­mance Santa Fe Orchestra that Joseph Il­lick con­ducts ev­ery year at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for some the orchestra’s prin­ci­pals to show their con­sid­er­able fi­nesse, most im­pres­sive among them be­ing flutist Jesse Ta­tum, clar­inetist James Shields, bas­soon­ist Alexan­der Onieal, hor­nist Julie Lands­man, trum­peter Bill Wil­liams, and cel­list Jonathan Spitz. Par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est at­tached to the work that oc­cu­pied the con­cert’s sec­ond half: Brahms’ Dou­ble Con­certo in A mi­nor (Op. 102), which fea­tured the es­timable pi­ano duo of An­der­son & Roe. Brahms wrote the piece to spot­light vi­o­lin and cello, but Greg An­der­son (half of the solo team) has tran­scribed it to spot­light two pi­anos in­stead.

Al­though this was the first pub­lic per­for­mance of his tran­scrip­tion, An­der­son & Roe per­formed from mem­ory — not a sur­prise, really, since as an ensem­ble they take greater pains than most clas­si­cal mu­si­cians do about the vis­ual ef­fect they con­vey to an au­di­ence. Brahms did write nu­mer­ous pieces for pi­ano duet, mostly for pi­ano four-hands, al­though he pro­duced a couple of fine works for two pi­anos. In­tro­duc­ing the piece, Il­lick ob­served that the com­poser of­ten had sec­ond thoughts about the in­stru­men­tal com­bi­na­tions for which he was writ­ing, such that a com­po­si­tion might end up us­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent group­ing from what he en­vi­sioned at the out­set. That is true, al­though the Dou­ble Con­certo is not among them. From the start, Brahms imag­ined it specif­i­cally to spot­light vi­o­lin and cello. In­deed, he wrote it to be played by two spe­cific mu­si­cians, and it was sup­posed to help heal a painful rift he had en­dured from one of them, vi­o­lin­ist Joseph Joachim. (The cel­list was cen­tral to engi­neer­ing this ner­vous rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.) This bi­o­graph­i­cal sub­text pretty much dis­ap­pears when the piece is re­cast for a pair of pi­anos. On a mu­si­cal level, one also misses the fris­son of­fered by the ath­leti­cism re­quired of string soloists. It’s not that the pi­ano writ­ing in An­der­son’s tran­scrip­tion sounded easy or sim­plis­tic in any way, but rather that one was less struck by the sheer phys­i­cal ex­er­tion in­volved in ren­der­ing it. Brahms of­ten has the vi­o­lin and cello play­ing in dou­ble-stops, which yields four-part har­mony or coun­ter­point. An­der­son fills out the pi­ano parts con­sid­er­ably from there, making them id­iomatic for the in­stru­ments even if the parts seem an­chored in the pi­anos’ midrange. The piece al­ready has a rather dense or­ches­tra­tion, and it was my im­pres­sion that An­der­son did not change this much if at all. The re­sult was that the two pi­anos some­times had trou­ble pro­ject­ing over the orchestra, which played some­times louder than it needed to.

Brahms’ Dou­ble Con­certo did pre­vi­ously ex­ist in a version for pi­ano four-hands pre­pared by Robert Keller, who through the course of 20 years as­sisted in the edit­ing and proof­read­ing of Brahms’ works. His four-hands set­ting was pub­lished in 1889, two years af­ter the con­certo’s pre­miere, but it was really pre­pared more as a tool for study­ing the score with­out the has­sle of con­ven­ing an orchestra than as a ri­val to the ac­tual piece. Whether An­der­son leaned on Keller’s four-hands set­ting when preparing this new version I can­not say, but I sus­pect he did not, or at least not very much. The An­der­son tran­scrip­tion is not go­ing to sup­plant Brahms’ orig­i­nal in the pub­lic’s af­fec­tion, but in this com­mit­ted un­veil­ing, it came across as an ef­fec­tive con­cert work, a use­ful ad­di­tion to the re­gret­tably small reper­toire of con­cer­tos for two pi­anos and orchestra.

As an ensem­ble, An­der­son & Roe take greater pains than most clas­si­cal mu­si­cians do about the vis­ual ef­fect they con­vey to an au­di­ence.

An­der­son & Roe

Joseph Il­lick

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