Pasa Re­views

Sev­er­all Friends and Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — James M. Keller

Sev­er­all Friends San Miguel Chapel, Jan. 26 Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, Jan. 28

The his­toric San Miguel Chapel has served as a con­cert venue for the past sev­eral years but has mostly at­tracted small­ish au­di­ences. It ap­pears that word has fi­nally started to sink in about Sev­er­all Friends, and last Fri­day night the chapel was full to ca­pac­ity, with about 140 mu­sic lovers re­spond­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to an el­e­gantly ren­dered evening of trio sonatas from the 17th and 18th cen­turies. This con­sor­tium of col­leagues shape shifts depending on the reper­toire be­ing ad­dressed, which can em­brace me­dieval, Re­nais­sance, or — as in this con­cert — Baroque mu­sic. Four fine mu­si­cians were in­volved, all of whom re­side lo­cally at least part-time and are ad­mired na­tion­ally or even in­ter­na­tion­ally in pe­riod-in­stru­ment cir­cles: vi­o­lin­ists El­iz­a­beth Blu­men­stock and Stephen Red­field, vi­ola da gam­bist Mary Springfels, and harp­si­chordist Kath­leen McIntosh.

On the docket were trio sonatas, in­stru­men­tal works in which two “melody in­stru­ments” — in this case vi­o­lins — weave in coun­ter­point above a bass part that was here ren­dered by harp­si­chord and vi­ola da gamba. A bit of textural va­ri­ety ar­rived by way of a dev­il­ishly dif­fi­cult suite for gamba and harp­si­chord by Marin Marais and a solo harp­si­chord suite by Henry Pur­cell; but apart from those, trio sonatas were front and cen­ter, cast­ing their in­gra­ti­at­ing spell through pieces that, as Blu­men­stock ob­served in her pro­gram notes, “of­fer a more con­ver­sa­tional, play­ful, and in­ter­ac­tive dy­namic” than one might en­counter in co­eval solo sonatas.

The pro­gram started its ge­o­graph­i­cal tour in 17th­cen­tury Ham­burg through a piece by the lit­tle-known Di­et­rich Becker. From there, it con­tin­ued in France with mu­sic by Marais, Elis­a­beth Jac­quet de la Guerre, and Jean-Marie Le­clair; touched down in Eng­land for sev­eral pieces by Pur­cell and a trio sonata Han­del prob­a­bly wrote a few years af­ter he moved to Lon­don; and wended its way back to Ger­many for an ap­peal­ing com­po­si­tion for­merly at­trib­uted to Bach but more likely writ­ten by his pupil Johann Got­tlieb Gold­berg. High­lights were many: the ac­cen­tu­a­tion Springfels brought to the bass line in the ci­ac­cona that con­cludes the Becker; a rav­ish­ing ac­count of a char­ac­ter­ful, dra­matic cha­conne by Le­clair (poor soul — found mur­dered in his lit­tle Parisian home in 1764, prob­a­bly by his nephew); Pur­cell’s dole­ful Pa­van in A ma­jor, in which the play­ers achieved depth and poignancy; and Han­del’s superb F-ma­jor Trio Sonata (HWV 392), in which the vi­o­lins’ sing­ing lines joined in ir­re­sistible con­tours, of­ten punc­tu­ated by sud­den dimin­u­en­dos on the fi­nal note or two. A de­light of the trio sonata as a genre is the democ­racy it brings to its parts. The two vi­o­lin­ists of­fered con­trast through their dis­tinct tim­bres, with Blu­men­stock pro­ject­ing a rel­a­tively bright, pen­e­trat­ing tone and Red­field coun­ter­ing with a slightly huskier sound, though one that was still clearly de­lin­eated.

One sensed that this was a wa­ter­shed per­for­mance for Sev­er­all Friends, with peo­ple crowd­ing around the re­cep­tion desk af­ter­ward to sign up for the ensem­ble’s mail­ing list. That be­ing the case, it is prob­a­bly not too early to re­serve tick­ets for the group’s next con­cert, on April 28. In­stead of the re­fine­ment of Baroque sa­lons, it will fea­ture lusty pop­u­lar mu­sic — jigs, catches, and bal­lads — from 17th-cen­tury Eng­land, per­formed by coun­tertenor Ry­land An­gel, fid­dler Shira Kam­men, cit­tern player Mark Rim­ple, and Springfels (again on the gamba).

Last week­end, pi­anist Con­rad Tao ap­peared with the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra, con­ducted by Thomas O’Connor, as soloist in Schu­mann’s Pi­ano Con­certo. Pro Mu­sica has brought Tao to town reg­u­larly through the past 10 years, ever since he was turn­ing heads as a child prodigy, and it has been heart­en­ing to watch him grow into a twen­ty­four-year-old pro­fes­sional of wide-rang­ing mu­si­cal in­ter­ests. Pre­vi­ous ex­po­sure had not pre­pared me for his on­slaught on Schu­mann, which I found baf­fling and dis­agree­able. It can­not be said that Tao lacked a clearly ar­tic­u­lated point of view. He de­fined his hy­per­ath­letic ap­proach right from his open­ing salvo, in which he ig­nored the rhythms Schu­mann wrote out so care­fully and ren­dered ev­ery­thing as a thun­der­ous crash. For a while, I al­lowed my­self to think of his pi­anism as dis­play­ing “a pow­er­ful tone,” but by the end I could not avoid ac­knowl­edg­ing the un­pleas­ant truth: He banged his way through a con­certo that, in other read­ings, can be one of the most po­etic in the reper­toire. He had all the notes firmly in hand, but his harsh, flashy in­ter­pre­ta­tion was one I will be happy to never en­counter again.

That he is ca­pa­ble of more sub­tle at­tack and voic­ing was ev­i­dent in his ad­mirable en­core: a tran­scrip­tion of Art Ta­tum’s fin­ger-twist­ing take on Ray Noble’s tune “Chero­kee.” The orches­tra’s pro­gram be­gan with a solid ac­count of Mozart’s Sym­phony No. 39 and Joan Tower’s Cham­ber Dance, an episodic, some­what aim­less piece from 2006 that af­forded many op­por­tu­ni­ties to spot­light prin­ci­pal play­ers but ul­ti­mately is not one of Tower’s stronger ac­com­plish­ments.

Con­rad Tao

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