Raleigh area connoisseurs of historically-informed performance of Baroque and early Romantic music got quite a treat Saturday afternoon at St. Timothy's Episcopal during our near-record warm weather. Luring people inside was Raleigh Camerata, our local experts in Baroque music, joined by guest artist Patrick Hawkins playing an original square piano from 1805. This remarkable instrument was the real star of the show, and all but one of the pieces featured the piano to good advantage.
Artistic director of Raleigh Camerata, flutist Kelly Nivison Roudabush, spoke to the audience between most of the pieces, with many points of interest to guide us through unfamiliar territory (for most). In addition to Hawkins, she was joined by recorder player Jennifer Streeter, Baroque cellist Christopher Nunnally, Baroque oboist Tom Turanchik, and baroque violinist Allison Willet. (Turanchik and Willet bios can be read here.)
All had the opportunity to be heard, which might not be the case had they played with a modern instrument; the square piano was far softer in volume than any of today's pianos. The keyboard range was much shorter than the modern 88 key norm, and with leather hammers instead of felt, there was less delicacy of touch in the action. This did not impair the music making, as the literature was composed with instruments like this in mind. The full-blown Romantic era required steel-framed grand pianos and the advent of the modern orchestral instruments to sound the Big Note. This intimate Baroque music was of a different scale altogether, and a refreshing alternative to the sensory overload we have come to expect in today's music. These compositions were intended for homes and small venues. Even the acoustically friendly environs of this church were rather too large for these instruments, especially the piano. I sat in the front, with pew-mate Bob Upchurch (the Triangle's most ubiquitous Classical music aficionado), anticipating the need to be close to the action. I highly recommend this strategy for these concerts.
The first work on the program was Sonata for Piano, Flute, and Cello in D, Op. 21, No. 1 by Muzio Clementi. This was published in 1788, and is quite Mozartian in style. Roudabush used one of her two wooden traverse flutes for this cheerful and always up-tempo three-movement work. Clementi left the storming of heaven to other composers, and gave us instead quite pleasant diversions.
The next piece was from Georg Philipp Telemann, from his celebrated Musique de Table; the Quartet in D minor, TWV 43:d1, in three movements. This was my personal favorite of the concert, with a rich full-bodied sound and interesting interplay between the wooden flute, recorder, violin, cello, and piano. (Not sure why five people played a quartet, but I'm just doing the review, not the bookkeeping…) Telemann lived at just the right time to use both recorders and flutes, and took advantage of this to play them off one another to good effect. Recorders lost out to the modern flute shortly after his time, not to be resurrected until the 20th century. (Just one word: plastic.) Streeter was assigned some intricate lines, and I was most impressed.
Ludwig van Beethoven showed up next with Three Bagatelles for fortepiano, short little snippets from early in his career. This was the only offering for piano solo, and in the sanctuary of this church, the sound was rather too soft for comfort. I'm afraid the older folks sitting further back probably missed most of it. But then, so did the composer…
Then came a charming light little confection by Jan Ladislav Dussek, the Sonata for piano and flue in G, Op. 4, No.1. While Dussek started the tradition of playing his piano sideways to the audience, so that (as the program noted) the ladies could admire his profile, in this concert the pianist faced away from the audience. This was not only so that we could see his hands, but also because the lid of the square piano is hinged at the back, so that when the lid is open the sound goes over the pianist's head. Given the histrionics and facial contortions of many modern pianists (blissfully absent at this performance), having the musician facing the back wall is a bit of a relief.
Notturno by August Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf was originally for four flutes, but was performed here on oboe, violin, flute, and recorder. I couldn't quite place why it was called "notturno," as it seemed not expressly nocturne like – who knows? But then this was an afternoon concert, so what the heck.
The finale was Quartet in D, WB 76, by Johann Christian Bach, for flute, oboe, violin, cello, and piano. The piano had several opportunities for solos and was quite effectively treated in this well-orchestrated work.
All in all, a delightful performance by experts in the field, well appreciated by the audience and this reviewer.
Raleigh Camerata will repeat this concert on Sunday, February 26 at Durham's First Presbyterian. See our sidebar for details.