Lis­ten Up

James M. Keller re­views sea­sonal con­certs

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THELoretto Chapel is es­pe­cially lovely at Christ­mas­time, when its white, neo-Gothic in­te­rior is lightly be­decked with sea­sonal green­ery. The hol­i­day con­certs given there an­nu­ally by Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque En­sem­ble gen­er­ally make it sound as good as it looks. It is a de­pend­ably classy event, with the in­stru­men­tal­ists, per­form­ing se­ri­ous but not pon­der­ous reper­toire on 18th-cen­tury-style in­stru­ments, be­ing joined by one of two singers who di­vide the vo­cal du­ties over the run of the con­certs. The group of­fered 12 go-rounds spread across three days, each ac­com­mo­dat­ing just 139 lis­ten­ers, which en­sured an in­ti­mate con­cert ex­pe­ri­ence.

The ros­ter of in­stru­men­tal­ists was lightly tweaked this year to yield a group of eight well-matched play­ers. The most no­table change was the in­clu­sion of a the­o­rbo, a bass lute. Played here by Pablo Cham­pion, it rarely called much at­ten­tion to it­self, but it added sub­tle def­i­ni­tion to a rich-toned basso con­tinuo group of cello, dou­ble bass, and or­gan. Th­ese were off­set by the en­sem­ble’s tre­ble com­po­nent of two vi­o­lins, vi­ola, and, in sev­eral num­bers, flute.

The group de­fined its char­ac­ter from its open­ing piece, a suite from Henry Pur­cell’s The Fairy

Queen. This 1692 masque, dis­tantly de­rived from Shake­speare’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream ,is chock­ablock with Pur­cell’s invit­ing melodies and quirky rhythms. The en­sem­ble in­fused their eight move­ments with well-blended, res­o­nant tim­bre, care­fully cal­i­brated gra­da­tions of vol­ume, and a style that con­veyed in­ter­pre­ta­tive ideas with clar­ity. The same could be said of their treat­ment of the Sonata Duodec­ima by Anna Is­abella Leonarda, who served as mother su­pe­rior of a con­vent in No­vara, Italy, and, with the 1693 col­lec­tion that in­cludes this work, be­came the first woman to pub­lish sonatas. The piece is con­ser­va­tive in style and a touch long-winded, with phrases re­peat­ing of­ten in its 10 min­utes. Still, violinist Stephen Red­field, the en­sem­ble’s leader, im­bued it with a pre­cise pro­file through metic­u­lous ar­tic­u­la­tion and ex­pres­sive aban­don, which ex­tended to some pitch-bend­ing that lent an ex­otic Mid­dle Eastern fla­vor in one episode.

Carol Red­man was the adept soloist in a Tele­mann Flute Con­certo in G ma­jor, the dense, veiled tone of her Baroque flute lend­ing a haunted qual­ity to the slow move­ments. As its third move­ment (Largo) died away on an E, a church bell tolled out­side at pre­cisely the same pitch — a re­minder of how live per­for­mances can be en­riched by op­por­tune co­in­ci­dences. The per­for­mance I at­tended (the ear­lier of two on Dec. 21) fea­tured Clara Rottsolk as the vo­cal soloist. She possesses a bright-toned, flex­i­ble lyric so­prano voice with a strong lower reg­is­ter. She put it to good use in Vi­valdi’s Nulla in mundo ,a motet set to a weird poem about the de­cep­tions of the world and how blos­soms may con­ceal a ven­omous ser­pent — though hope, it in­sists, none­the­less re­sides in Je­sus. The mu­sic is stan­dard-is­sue Vi­valdi that turns es­pe­cially florid in a con­clud­ing “Al­leluia.” Rottsolk ne­go­ti­ated the work’s de­mands with lithe bril­liance. The chapel’s acous­tic is not al­ways help­ful to singers at louder dy­nam­ics. Here, Rottsolk’s tone bounced back at her, some­times ob­scur­ing the fluid del­i­cacy of her em­bel­lish­ments. This proved less prob­lem­atic in a set of early Christ­mas carols, where she hewed to a lighter tim­bre, but the is­sue resur­faced in the rol­lick­ing “Al­leluia” from Han­del’s motet Silete

venti, in which she re­turned to a more op­er­atic mode to end the con­cert.

Afi­ciona­dos of early mu­sic filled Christ Lutheran Church to ca­pac­ity for “The Holie Eve,” a con­cert of me­dieval, Re­nais­sance, and early Baroque Christ­mas mu­sic per­formed on Dec. 16 by Música An­tigua de Al­bu­querque. Long­time di­rec­tors Art and Colleen Shein­berg as­sem­bled a pro­gram com­pris­ing 31 mu­si­cal se­lec­tions and eight read­ings that worked through top­i­cal chap­ters: “Re­joice, O Shep­herds,” “King Herod and the Magi,” and so on. It prac­ti­cally served as a text­book of his­tor­i­cal gen­res, from plain­chant, or­ganum, and trou­vère songs through to rel­a­tively grand 17th-cen­tury motets by Hans Leo Hassler and Michael Prae­to­rius. All were wor­thy pieces, but by the end of two-and-a-quar­ter

The mid­dle move­ment of Poulenc’s Con­certo for Two Pianos, in part a sa­lute to Mozart, be­gan with an el­e­gant lyri­cism and pro­gressed to al­most Rach­mani­noff-like pas­sion.

hours (in­clud­ing an in­ter­mis­sion plus a med­i­cal emer­gency in the au­di­ence), the pews grew hard in­deed.

The group draws on a large va­ri­ety of early in­stru­ments. This was en­ter­tain­ing, in its way, although the per­form­ers han­dled them with the de­light of de­voted am­a­teurs rather than as truly pol­ished vir­tu­osos. They ad­hered to an ap­proach that was preva­lent in the 1960s and ’70s, not re­flect­ing that the early-mu­sic world has largely moved on since then. Many of the pieces were or­ches­trated with ad­di­tive in­stru­men­ta­tion, the play­ers join­ing in grad­u­ally to build up to a cli­max. The en­sem­ble’s set­ting of the well-known vil­lan­cico “Ríu, ríu, chíu” in­volved drum­ming rather in the style of Xavier Cu­gat, against which Colleen Shein­berg in­toned the song with sweet tone and sin­cere ex­pres­sion. The spo­ken texts, pre­sented by Kathy Millé Wim­mer, proved ever en­gag­ing, es­pe­cially those that she ren­dered — and made sur­pris­ingly com­pre­hen­si­ble — in Mid­dle English.

THESanta Fe Sym­phony pre­sented a Christ­mas Eve con­cert at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, di­rected by its prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor, Guillermo Figueroa. The first half was con­structed to high­light dif­fer­ent groups from within the or­ches­tra. First up were eight brass play­ers, who gave work­man­like read­ings of three can­zonas by Gio­vanni Gabrieli. Since th­ese works are main­stays of the brass cham­ber reper­toire, one won­dered why Figueroa felt it ne­c­es­sary to di­rect the play­ers. In the event, there was lit­tle arc in their phras­ing, and the con­duct­ing was not much more than time-beat­ing. Then fol­lowed the “Trio of the Young Ish­maelites” from Ber­lioz’s ora­to­rio L’en­fance du

Christ, a gen­tle move­ment for two flutes and harp, pleas­antly ren­dered. Han­del’s Mu­sic for the Royal Fire­works re­ceived a some­times ten­ta­tive run-through that pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for the oboes and horns to shine, although Figueroa led a sur­pris­ingly flac­cid in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the work’s over­ture and then re­peated part of it as a mu­si­cally il­log­i­cal con­clu­sion to the suite.

The sec­ond half of the con­cert fea­tured the for­mi­da­ble pi­ano duo An­der­son & Roe, fre­quent vis­i­tors to Santa Fe, and they in­spired the or­ches­tra to snap to at­ten­tion. Poulenc’s Con­certo for Two Pianos is one of the duo’s sig­na­ture pieces, and they ex­e­cuted it with great spirit and sen­si­tiv­ity. Greg An­der­son seemed slightly off his game in the first move­ment; my guess is that his pi­ano’s ac­tion was reg­u­lated more heav­ily than he would have liked. This caused only mo­men­tary rough­ness in some trills and rapidly de­scend­ing scales, and it im­pinged lit­tle on the over­all ef­fect. The mid­dle move­ment, in part a sa­lute to Mozart, be­gan with el­e­gant lyri­cism and pro­gressed to al­most Rach­mani­noff-like pas­sion. The fi­nale was not quite so quickly paced as in some in­ter­pre­ta­tions (per­haps in def­er­ence to An­der­son’s slug­gish Stein­way), but it was none­the­less vi­va­cious and filled with buoy­ant wit. The most spell­bind­ing mo­ments of the per­for­mance came in the spots where Poulenc has the pi­anists im­i­tate an In­done­sian game­lan, at the con­certo’s out­set and then at the end of each move­ment: pure magic.

The duo also played a Car­men Fan­tasy cre­ated by An­der­son out of themes from Bizet’s opera. As much an orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion as an ar­range­ment, it is clever, tech­ni­cally dif­fi­cult, and so­phis­ti­cated in its rhythm, har­monies, and tex­tu­ral in­ter­lock­ing — which is to say that it is cus­tom-crafted to the strengths of this duo. For an en­core, An­der­son & Roe of­fered their sparkling ar­range­ment of “Amer­ica” from

Story, to close out the Leonard Bern­stein cen­ten­nial year. It started as a set­ting for four-hands at one pi­ano, but you just knew both pianos would be pressed into ser­vice by the time they were done. It proved to be a show­piece of per­for­mance chore­og­ra­phy as well mu­si­cian­ship, with the pi­anists in­ter­twin­ing, chang­ing places on the bench, and scur­ry­ing from one pi­ano to the other without miss­ing a beat.

Pi­ano duo An­der­son & Roe

Carol Red­man with her 18th-cen­tury Baroque flute; in­set, Clara Rottsolk, photo Ta­tiana Daubek

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