The Show (and the snow) Must Go On: Pro Musica Colorado
A Review by Marc Shulgold
“You are the most intrepid music lovers in all of Denver,” Cynthia Katsarelis enthused to the small but enthusiastic gathering on a blustery, snowy night in the Mile High City on Feb. 22.
Undeterred by the weather, a few dozen folks made their way to the First Baptist Church of Denver, and were rewarded with an intriguing concert by Katsarerlis’ Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra – the bundled-up listeners delivering a heart-felt standing ovation when the evening concluded.
The first half of the concert (which was repeated in Boulder and Longmont that weekend – no doubt under better conditions) was focused on the superb playing of renowned harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, whose impressive résumé took up an entire page in the program book. Playing a two-manual, built-in-Colorado instrument, Vinikour showed his virtuosic technique in a familiar concerto by Bach, while his commitment to contemporary music was displayed in a spritely new piece by Boulder-based composer-fiddler Max Wolpert.
The premiere of Baroque in Mirror proved an interesting and engaging mixture of traditional fiddle tunes and contemporary explorations in atmospheric soundscaping. Wolpert dug into the world of Baroque-era Irish-flavored dance music by titling each of the three movements after an exponent of that popular genre. Following the tradition of framing a slow middle movement with two jolly outer ones, the composer pointed out in his accompanying program notes that the three dedicatees were contemporaries of Bach, Handel and Haydn – no doubt underlying the fact that the fiddlers three had been sadly overshadowed by the greatness of others.
It didn’t matter, since Wolpert’s finely crafted score made no illusions to the music of her Baroque masters. Instead, the outer movements – dedicated to Daniel Dow (1732-83) and Blind John Parry (1710-82) – bubbled with joyful rhythms and catch tunes, nimbly handled by Pro Musica’s small but worthy string section. The first movement opened with a wispy, searching episode, offered by oboist Miriam Kapner and Vinikour, before the irrepressible bounce of an Irish jig took over. Similarly the finale found orchestra and keyboard soloist dazzling listeners with a parade of jaunty tunes.
In between came a lament honoring both the memory of Jewish composer Abraham Caceres (yes, there were a few successful ones back in the 1700s), as well those who perished in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last October. Here once again, Vinikour and Kapner brought depth and compassion to music that was occasionally dissonant but predominantly poignant and lovely. Wolpert was on hand to acknowledge a well-deserved ovation.
Vinikour returned as soloist in Bach’s familiar D-minor Harpsichord Concerto, a work that he has doubtless played many times in his distinguished career. That said, he manged to bring freshness and vitality to a piece that offers energetic moments amid its dramatic forays into intimate darkness. As she had throughout the evening, Katsarelis conducted with assurance and ideal pacing, never once overshadowing her soloist. Though he played on a superb two-manual instrument, Vinikour only rarely took advantage of the upper manual’s contrasting sound.
The evening concluded with Katsarelis’ nicely crafted reading of Haydn’s “Philosopher” Symphony (No. 22, if you’re keeping score), a work given its nickname by an early orchestral dialogue, the conductor explained. Using an unusual scoring for pairs of French horns and English horns (the latter a deeper, mellower version of an oboe), the Symphony showcased the fine playing of Kapner and Caleb Bradley on the English instruments, and the equally noble contributions by French hornists Devon Park and Katherine Smith (the latter pressed into courageous, last-minute duties as page-turner for Vinikour).
Then, alas, it was time to leave the warmth of the Church and slog through the snow.