Chapel of the Cross was well-filled with music lovers and supporters of Baroque and Beyond for its tenth anniversary season's finale. Artistic Director and harpsichordist Beverly Biggs was joined by recorder player Frances Blaker, Baroque bassoonist Keith Collins, and Baroque cellist Barbara Krumdieck. They presented a program of real or attributed Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) works along with other Italian rarities.
A Trio Sonata, Op. 5, No. 3 by Giovanni Battista Bassani (ca. 1650-1767) opened the concert. It is in five short movements played without break. One striking effect was a beautifully sustained low bassoon note played by Collins that served to link the opening Allegro with the following Grave. The remaining movements are Allegro-Largo-Largo. The scoring for recorder, cello, bassoon, and keyboard, spun beautifully by Blaker, Krumdieck, Collins, and Biggs, is standard for the period without being memorable.
An imaginative hand changed the accompaniment of Vivaldi's Cello Sonata in B-flat, Op. 14, No. 6, RV 46 from harpsichord to bassoon! It is in the standard four movements: Largo, Allegro, Largo, and Allegro. Vivaldi's melodic genius was evident in every movement and provided a clear contrast with the Bassani opener. Krumdieck brought out the cello's melodies in the slow movements and articulated the fast ones clearly and wittily. Collin's bassoon had a rich, warm tone and a wonderful lower range but lacked the expressive variety of a fine two-manual harpsichord.
Paolo Girolamo Besozzi (1704-1778) was an Italian oboe virtuoso and bassoonist based at the Court of the Duke of Parma before moving to Paris where he composed his lone Bassoon Sonata in B-flat. Collins said this work that stylistically borders the Baroque and Classical deserves to be heard outside of didactic training. Collins brought out the full tonal range of his instrument, playing expressively with superb breath control. Biggs' imaginative harpsichord underpinning was delightful.
The six sonatas of Il Pastor Fido for Recorder and basso continuo was long attributed to Vivaldi but is now believed to be the work of Nichola Chédeville. Blaker prefaced her performance by recalling she had always felt the first five, which she finds bland and boring, were not by Vivaldi. No. 6 has the composer's stylistic touches, and she believes it is by the composer. An imaginative touch is the Vivace slows down leading to the strict Fuga da Capella. A slightly mournful Largo is followed by a virtuosic Allegro ma non troppo. Blaker delivered the goods in the latter while expressively playing the subtle slow movement and voicing the fugue with beautiful clarity. Krumdieck and Biggs gave imaginative continuo support.
An unknown skilled hand from the eighteenth century was in evidence in the next work, Sonata in A minor for Violin and Basso Continuo by Francesco Maria Veracini (1698-1768). He was an Italian composer and violinist about whom Manfred Bukofzer wrote: "His individual, if not subjective style, has no precedent in Baroque music and clearly heralds the end of the entire era."
Veracini's contemporary Charles Burney held "he had a great share of whim and caprice." Blaker commented upon the real skill of the adaptation of the violin part for the recorder. Its five movements are Overtura, Allegro, Paesana (Allegro), Largo, and Giga: Postiglione. Blaker justly called the opening a bad attempt to recreate a grand French-style Overture, the middle Paesana, a peasant dance, and the finale a poor imitation of a Posthorn she thought sounded like a donkey. I am so used to comic writing for the bassoon, the clear "hee-hawing" of the recorder caught me by surprise. My CVNC colleague Ken Hoover said it reminded him of the braying in Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite. The wide variety of sounds made this performance by Blake, Collins, Krumdieck, and Biggs very satisfying. Perhaps more Varacini next season?
Another real Vivaldi work, Trio Sonata in A minor for Recorder, Bassoon, and Basso Continuo, RV 86 brought the concert to a rousing conclusion. Its movements are Largo, Allegro, Largo cantabile, and Allegro molto. The ensemble of Blaker, Collins, Krumdieck, and Biggs delivered plenty of spirited and wonderfully expressive playing. This left everyone looking forward to the three concerts of the eleventh season of 2017-18.