56th Indianapolis Early Music Festival launches with Chatham Baroque's return
|Chatham Baroque's "Three Violins" exquisitely balanced.|
It's not hard to begin by praising the ensemble's performance of the best-known piece in the concert: Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D, here with its Gigue conclusion intact. An ingeniously simple, productive short phrase forms the canon, which is subject to indefinite repetitions potentially. That certainly makes it a fixture in wedding processions, whose timing may vary and thus require music that can be honorably cut off when all are assembled.
The rapid tempo was welcome, and all the ornamentation of the canon fell into place handsomely. It made a satisfying way to conclude the first half, as Henry Purcell's "Three Parts Upon a Ground" did to end the concert. Chatham Baroque's performance of the latter work, notably recorded by Indiana University early-music professor Stanley Ritchie, amounted to a tribute to that venerable maestro, who trained many violinists specializing in early music.
It was another illustration, in a more intricate style, of what can be done to build upon a short bass line ("ground"). This one is by the most significant English composer before the 19th century. Purcell (1659-1695) was also a notable composer for voice. His gift for melody was more idiosyncratic than the High Baroque was later to develop. It was evident earlier in the performance with "Chacony," designating another form based on a brief, repeated melody. There were plenty of vocal hints about the layout of this fetching piece; its lilting dotted-rhythm line seemed eminently singable, evoking the composer of songs and operatic works such as "Dido and Aeneas."
The program opened with the concert's guest violinists offstage, echoing the lines enunciated by Andrew Fouts in Biagio Marini's captivating Sonata in Echo. When Evan Few and Edwin Huizinga appeared from the wings to join Fouts, "The Three Violins" was ready to be off and running in full soli force.
The ensemble's instruments not covered by the title (two plucked and one bowed) were given answering phrases in some pieces (particularly violone player Patricia Halveson) and otherwise provided the basso continuo. The three players capably supported the violinists; the ensemble was seamless. The colorful Bellerofonte Castaldi, inventor of the theorbo, was represented by theorbo players Scott Pauley and Joshua Stauffer, as the violinists rested, by two Capricci a due stumenti
There was plenty more for the full ensemble to take care of: A Sonata by Giovanni Battista Fontana had some inviting changes of texture, as the solo violin voice was doubled or tripled, with a zesty flourish for all three fiddlers at the end. This touch was crowned by the Purcell piece shortly thereafter. Some bracing dissonance flavored the final cadence, a brief but telling indication that baroque music is loaded with surprises and vivid feelings that we in the 21st century don't expect to have full access to.