Saturday, July 14, 2018

Early Music Festival enters final weekend with three-concert stint by Ensemble Caprice

Thematic programming is common at the Indianapolis Early Music Festival, and none of the guest artists handle it with more conviction than Ensemble Caprice. The 2015 festival had an alluring example of that when the group was joined by soprano Esteli Gomez in repertoire exploring the interplay of the Old and the New World.
Ensemble Caprice al fresco: Ziya Tabassian (from left), David Jacques, Susie Napper, Matthias Maute, Sophie Lariviere.


Based in Montreal, the 25-year-old Renaissance and Baroque band on this visit opened its three-day festival run Friday night with "Chaconne: Voices of Eternity."

The surprising program title alludes to the nature of the chaconne's cumulative structure. The form, based on a repeated bass figure or phrase, can go on indefinitely. There is no development; all the contrast has to be laid over the short basic line. Unlike the canon, overlapping of the generating phrase is not part of the structure, but similarly the chaconne implies infinity. Pachelbel's Canon in D is a feature of many weddings in part because it can be fitted to a desired length without distortion.

Anyway, Ensemble Caprice's leader Matthias Maute grouped this program's selections according to love relationships between composers and women. However subject to disruption and decay it may be in real life, in music love (we like to think) is eternal, especially if embodied in such a form as the chaconne.

After brief spoken introductions — a little unidiomatic, as if German were being fluently but awkwardly translated into English — a musical segment was presented. The divisions were marked by Maute's picking up a rose from the floor, then placing it in a vase after his narrative. The last rose, he said sweetly, was for the audience in the Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center.

This was carefully applied charm. Much more freedom as well as naturalness of execution was evident in Maute's recorder playing, where his virtuoso style was masterfully applied. A group of Czech folk songs and Tarquinio Merula's "Ciacona" displayed his maestro status especially well.

He is seconded in Ensemble Caprice by recorder player Sophie Lariviere in the group's "front line." It's evidently a seamless partnership. The expert filling-out of the instrumental texture lay in the hands of Susie Napper, cello; David Jacques, baroque guitar, and Ziya Tabassian, percussion. Balance and consistency were remarkable.

The group's repertoire naturally tends toward shorter pieces, which lend themselves to the thematic assemblage Ensemble Caprice is known for. This program's exception in terms of length was Maute's arrangement for two recorders and cello of Bach's Chaconne for unaccompanied violin. Though based on potentially endless material, the original work is a favorite with modern violinists (and audiences) because of its majesty and intimacy  — qualities distributed in dramatic fashion. Partly because of its recasting, this version had a lighter feeling throughout, emphasizing different attributes of the piece and its deceptively offhand ingenuity. The instrumental interlocking was smooth at every point.

Also distinguished by length and the eminence of its composer was Antonio Vivaldi's Trio Sonata in D minor ("La Follia"), which concluded the program. Based on a tune already well-known by the time Vivaldi used it (1739, according to Maute's oral program note), the work was fleshed out in this version so that the entire Ensemble Caprice was involved. The exuberance of the material was thus underlined, up to the point that the title's meaning ("craziness") was credibly evoked, especially in the judicious variety of Tabassian's percussion. The catchy piece ended the scheduled program with a flourish, provoking a standing ovation punctuated by whoops and bravos.