Saturday, June 22, 2013

47th annual Early Music Festival launches with Chatham Baroque

Establishing a great reputation as a teacher used to require a wealth of creative energy as well as pedagogical skill. In the early Baroque period, when music lacked much institutional support outside the Church, a career as varied as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger (c.1580-1651) was potentially thrust upon any musician who wanted to succeed, especially a transplant from the other side of the Alps seeking to make a name for himself in Rome.

Kapsperger (Grove's Dictionary spells it "Kapsberger," but we'll go with the program book here) was the main focus of the opening concert of the 47th Early Music Festival. Titled "Roman Holiday: The Music of Kapsperger and Friends," Friday's concert at the Glick Indiana History Center featured Chatham Baroque, a Pittsburgh ensemble with a core of plucked and bowed string instruments, and three guests (violinist Alison Edberg, violist Martie Perry and guitarist-archlutenist David Walker.

Besides the entrepreneurial Kapsperger, who seemed to have a knack for well-placed dedications of his music to highly placed Romans (including the pope), the program  included works by that eminent precursor of the High Baroque style, Arcangelo Corelli, and such lesser lights as Dario Castello and Diego Ortiz.

Kapsperger's music in dance forms — galliard, corrente and sarabande, among them — seemed natural to him, while evincing the eccentricity that theorbo player Scott Pauley called attention to in his extensive program notes. There was evidence of an ample melodic gift, especially in such a piece as "Ballo Secondo," which Chatham Baroque violinist Andrew Fouts assertively brought back at the end of the printed program as an encore. Fouts' expressive playing throughout the program was a distinct highlight of Chatham Baroque's festival visit, which continued Saturday morning with a free matinee for families.

Some of Kapsperger's music bears signs of a virtuoso player feeling his way as a composer, attempting to establish technical norms for his instrument and an expressive language adequate to it. Besides theorbo, other plucked instruments brought to perfection in the late Renaissance — the lute, the archlute, the chitarrone —  were the focus of the immigrant German's attention.

Pauley's playing of the Kapsperger theorbo solo "Colascione" early in the concert's second half had an earthiness that seemed much more grounded than the unpredictable outbursts of ornamentation that dotted Toccata VII, which was heard earlier and prefaced by Pauley's remark from the stage that the piece illustrated the "mad scientist" side of the composer.

Holding down the center of the first half was a piece by Girolamo Frescobaldi, a contrasting model of consistency in composition. The full ensemble played his "Canzon Quinta," a well-balanced work with an invigorating, yet still well-formed,  fast-slow-fast-slow structure.

From what we heard Friday, Kapsperger may have been most at home in short instrumental pieces. In any event, his sacred vocal music is roundly criticized in Grove's, and his secular songs hardly fare better. But at this concert  I got a kick out of the "Canario," a vigorous example of a popular dance form from the Canary Islands, as well as a flowing galliard in the concert's second half. But I still felt that some of the "friends" represented had more appealing things to say, especially Corelli in his Trio Sonata in A minor, op. 4, no. 5, and Dario Castello  in the five-voice, splendidly expressive "Sonata Decima," which concluded the program.

For information on the rest of the festival, visit 

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