Celebrating a Decade of Baroque Brilliance
A review by Marc Shulgold
In greeting his audience at the Bahá’í Center in Denver Sunday afternoon, Frank Nowell promised that this season-ending concert by his Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado would be “fun and festive.”
Actually, that description could be applied to the entire season, the ensemble’s 10th. Most folks might never think of connecting “fun and festive” with the traditionally dry world of Baroque music – but those folks probably never went to a concert by Nowell’s ensemble.
Through first-rate musicianship, thoughtful and inventive programming and an obvious passion for their music, the members of BCOC presented concerts over the past seven months that were consistently entertaining and enlightening – pretty much as they had managed over the course of their first ten years.
Seated, as always, at the harpsichord, Nowell presided over a program of some familiar fare (a Vivaldi double-trumpet Concerto and a suite from Handel’s “Water Music”) along with less familiar works by Telemann and Handel that were equally worthy of our attention.
Then there was one piece that fell into its own category.
Introducing Jőrn Boysen’s “Passacaille,” Nowell stressed that “Baroque music is a living art form.” That’s a key point, since Boysen’s charming, six-minute piece – more rondo than passacaglia, aficionados might have noticed – does not come from the long-ago days of Bach and Handel. “He just finished it a few weeks ago,” Nowell said of the 40-year-old German composer. The new meets the old. What an interesting concept.
Elsewhere, the program served to display the talents of BCOC’s core of superb string players, led by the exciting fiddling of Cynthia Miller Freivogel, augmented by a cast of equally fine guest wind players. Kathryn Montoya and Maryann Shore (oboes), Kathryn James Adduci and Melissa Rodgers (Baroque natural trumpets) and Paul Avril and Todd Williams (natural horns) brought fresh sounds to the well-known tunes of Handel’s “Water Music,” as well as in works by Telemann and Vivaldi that featured these guests individually.
Throughout the concert, one was equally struck by the high quality of performance on these often-tricky ancient instruments, and by the continuous flow of sensible, singable tempos – rather than the rushed interpretations heard from some Baroque groups who feel that faster is better.
Its first decade has ended, and, judging by the size of the near-full house on Sunday, it appears that BCOC has built a sizable audience that clearly loves what they hear, almost as much as the musicians seem to love what they play.