Baroque Wonders with Colorado Chamber Players
A preview by Betsy Schwarm
Now in their 24th season, the Colorado Chamber Players had never done an all-Baroque program – until now. Having recently attended various seminars on Baroque performance practice and acquired some fine Baroque instruments, the ensemble’s principal members Barbara Hamilton Primus and Paul Primus decided the time was right.
This first adventure will be a program of impressive variety, called “Wonders of the Heart: Baroque Music About Love”. Along with Bach and Vivaldi, who one might view as usual suspects, there are also two only occasional suspects (Telemann and François Couperin) and two other, even less familiar ones. How often do recital programs include music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Barbara Strozzi? Rarely, but the CCP’s selections seem likely to prove that these six composers are all equally fascinating – each in his or her own way.
Four of the six composers are featured in vocal selections. In itself, this is notable, as most Baroque concerts focus on instrumental offerings, rather than vocal ones. However, with Strozzi scholar Dr. Candace Magner of Cor Donato Editions available not only to recommend songs for consideration, but also to join the ensemble as Baroque guitarist, the opportunity to explore this early Baroque singer/songwriter’s music was not to be missed. Strozzi’s songs are often accompanied not just with guitar or other continuo instrument, but also by two violins, providing even more subtly shaded musical colors. Of the result, Magner observes that, though Strozzi didn’t compose operas per se, “these songs are like opera scenas.”
Soprano Amanda Balestrieri will sing the Strozzi songs, as well as the other vocal items: an aria from Charpentier’s Médée, Vivaldi’s sacred motet Nulla in mundo, and excerpts from J. S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 199. Lately, Balestrieri hasFor example, accounts from the time attest that it was common practice for performers – especially, though not exclusively singers – to dress up written notes with extra trills and other details. Nearly any successful composer of the day would have been able to put those details into the written music in the first place. However, Balestrieri sees it as comparable to jazz: writing down every single note would remove opportunities for performers to add their own personal expressive touch. “It’s spur of the moment,” she says, “and like with conversation, it’s more interesting that way.” The instruments, too, will be of the time, with gut strings and Baroque tuning, for a virtual visit to Bach’s own time.
Sometimes, however, instrumentalists get to share the spotlight with singers, not just as accompanists, but as equals in artistry. When Hamilton and Balestrieri were considering what Bach cantata to sample, Balestrieri suggested Cantata no. 199, and Hamilton eagerly agreed. The eighth movement of that cantata sets the chorale theme “Ich, dein betrubtes Kind” (I, thine sorrowful child), in which one finds a serenely regretful vocal line. By distinct contrast, the viola accompaniment, which comes to Hamilton’s care, is a perpetual motion stream of sixteenth notes. This movement is as much “about” the viola as it is about the soprano, or even the text itself. Bach often chose to provide further drama by including instrumental spotlights in his chorale and passion movements, this particular example being one of the most striking.
Each of the vocal selections on CCP’s program deals with love: romantic in the case of the Strozzi songs, rejected in Charpentier aria, or sacred with the Bach and Vivaldi choices. Thus, the program is titled “Wonders of the Heart.” As for the two purely instrumental works, one can also identify connections. Telemann’s Don Quixotte Suite links to two kinds of devotion: Quixote’s to the mostly imaginary Dulcinea, as well as Sancho Panza’s to his employer. By contrast, the trio sonata by François Couperin has no particular plot content, though Hamilton notes the frequent use of dance rhythms, a favorite approach of Baroque composers. They may not have exactly loved dancing itself, but they certainly loved to evoke it in their music. So the program’s theme is love, and the hope is that listeners will find much to love in the music that is offered.
When the Colorado Chamber Players’ concert was first announced for this fall, the intention was to hold this recital at First Universalist Church near the Wellshire Golf Course. However, remodeling work at the church seems unlikely to be completed in time, so the concert has been moved to the concert hall at the Denver School of the Arts at 7111 Montview Blvd, a facility many Denver-area concert-goers will recall visiting under its previous identities, Colorado Women’s College and the former Lamont School of Music. The program will take place on Saturday, November 11, starting at 7:30pm.
Tickets for November 11th, still being handled by First Universalist Church, are available online for $12 student/senior in advance ($15 day of concert) and $18 general ($22 day of concert) at: https://form.jotform.us/61236847930157.
The concert will be repeated on Sunday November 12th, 2 p.m., at the Longmont Museum Stewart Auditorium, tickets available through the Museum’s box office online or by calling (303) 651-8374.
More information: www.coloradochamberplayers.org