Monday, June 25, 2018

Tempesta di Mare at Early Music Festival: Three Berlin sisters helped move the German city's musical culture forward

From J.S. Bach to Mozart: Ensemble from Tempesta di Mare
Music from the collection of three remarkable Jewish sisters who were well assimilated two centuries ago in upper-class Berlin formed the program that Tempesta di Mare brought to the Indianapolis Early Music Festival Sunday afternoon.

The link between J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn in the seamless web of German musical culture had much to do with the advocacy and nurture of Sara, Fanny, and Bella Itzig, as members of the Philadelphia baroque orchestra demonstrated for an audience at Indiana History Center.

The program's bookends helped frame the concert as an exercise in late 18th-century/early 19th-century household music-making, but pitched at a high professional level. As Tempesta di Mare re-created that cultural milieu, the most eminent Bach made for an obvious start to the concert; the Itzig sisters were devotees.

In this arrangement of Trio Sonata No. 5 in F major, six visiting Tempesta di Mare members participated, displaying firm balance and lilting coordination throughout the three movements (the more lightly textured slow movement brought forward recorder and viola). Musicians were Gwyn Roberts, recorder (transverse flute for most of the program); Emlyn Ngai, violin; Daniela Giulia Pierson, viola; Lisa Terry, cello; Adam Pearl, harpsichord, and Richard Stone, lute.

The concert's most obscure composer, Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (a favorite of Sara's), was represented by Sonata da camera in E-flat, an arresting piece launched with a dramatic recitative and wrapped up with a dance-like finale marked "tempo di polacca," betraying its Polish inspiration with its three-beat measure featuring emphasis on the second. The rococo style predominated; the contrapuntal heritage was clearly in retreat as the 18th century unfolded in its second half. This style applies as well to W.F. Bach's Trio Sonata in B-flat, featuring lots of exchanges of melodic material, all crisply negotiated and threaded with ornamentation, with the bass line fairly routine.

The opportunity to compare two Bach sons' styles was withdrawn because of a program change. The most interesting of the master's composing offspring, C.P.E. Bach, was unfortunately not represented as planned. His Rondo in D minor, Wq. 61/4, is typically quirky but well put together, and covers a wide expressive range in its four-and-a-half minutes; at least that's how it sounds in the recorded piano version I have by Mikhail Pletnev.

The program-closer was peppy and light-hearted. A medley of sprightly tunes from Mozart's exotically flavored comedy "The Abduction from the Seraglio" concluded the concert; the Singspiel was written when the composer had lodgings at Fanny's house in 1781-82. The selection, played here by violin, viola, cello and flute, clearly is designed to provide fun for reasonably adept amateurs — "classic salon fare," as the program note says. After an abbreviated overture, there's the lover Belmonte's hopeful opening aria, followed by the ebullient drinking-song duet "Vivat Bacchus, Bacchus lebe," which is capped by the servant Osmin's hasty anticipation of personal victory, "O wie will ich triumphieren."

A capsule view of the opera itself was thus less the object of this arrangement than a celebration of bonding around readily accessible good music. This quality seemed representative of the program as a whole, raised to a professional level by the festival's guests from Philadelphia.