Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friday night's other classical music being wiped out by rain, Early Music Festival concert with Aeris moved front and center

The Indianapolis Early Music Festival took a "Roman holiday" on a rain-soaked central Indiana evening Friday, welcoming the baroque trio Aeris (with guests Charles Weaver, guitar and chitarrone, and Nell Snaidas, soprano) for a program of Handel "the Wanderer" and some Italian contemporaries  with one close predecessor. (Bad weather had led the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to cancel its Symphony on the Prairie concert; the program is scheduled to be performed tonight.)

Aeris is focused on music of the Italian baroque.
The New York trio specializes in the Italian baroque, with its florid and moody inspiration and its vivid melodic and rhythmic character.  It's not hard to see how this sort of music stirred the young Handel, who went on to flourish in Italian opera (staged in England) and English oratorios. America's "Messiah" mania has tended to obscure the breadth of this achievement, but in recent years more attention has been paid to a few other oratorios and the Anglicized Saxon's operas (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' 2015 production of "Richard the Lionheart" coming to mind).

So, the centerpiece of Friday's program was the cantata Dietro l'orme fuggaci, "Armida abbandonata," a quasi-dramatic teeter-totter of recitative and aria — seven parts in all.

Nell Snaidas came through, despite a recent vocal crisis.
Artistic director Mark Cudek announced beforehand that Snaidas had just come through a bad patch of voice trouble. Her appearance as soloist in this cantata and, after intermission, shorter works by Handel and Alessandro Stradella (the close predecessor mentioned above) was gratifying under such conditions. It wasn't hard to notice some loss of color in phrasing; the bloom was definitely off the tonal rose. But Snaidas' technique was secure and her expressiveness just about all that we have come to expect from her previous festival appearances.

Aspects of the later Handel were burgeoning in Dietro l'orme fuggaci. There is his instinctive skill for boosting the dramatic impact of a vocal line in the accompaniment without its getting in the way, for example. There is also the impact he often created out of vigorous instrumental/vocal partnership in the subgenre of the "rage aria."

 The emotion of "Winds, stay! No, do not drown him! It is true that he has betrayed me, but still I love him!" may not be rage, exactly, but Armida's desperate appeal, practically a command, comes close. And this aria was a highlight of Friday's performance.

Leader Avi Stein's playing was buoyant and precise throughout, and cellist William Skeen consistently displayed beautiful, rounded phrasing. Tempo coordination within the trio was unfailing.

Weaver added rhythmic elan on baroque guitar in a chaconne by Nicola Matteis, who like Handel, was to make much of his career in England. This piece made a great conclusion to the concert's first half, thanks to the lively, well-turned virtuosity of Zachary Carrettin.

Based on his account of a sonata by the prolific Francesco Maria Veracini, Carrettin's manner of playing baroque violin and the pastel timbre he gets from it will be contrasted at the end of the festival with the appearance of Rachel Barton Pine, who has just issued with Trio Settecento the complete Veracini Op. 2 sonatas on three discs. Her tone in this set is more assertive and brighter; there will be no Veracini in her two concerts here, but comparisons to Carrettin should offer fascinating insights into the interpretive breadth with which Roman chamber music of almost 300 years ago can be represented today.