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Closing its 9th season, the Raleigh Camerata, aided by a grant from the Town of Cary and the Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival, performed a lovely Classical winds feature at Christ the King Lutheran Church. Guest clarinetist Dominic Giardino performed in a woodwind triple concerto, as well as the well-known Beethoven Septet in E-flat, Op. 20. This ensemble's offerings are always strongly researched, highly polished, and educational affairs that celebrate a range of ensembles by various composers of the Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic eras. Artistic director Dr. Kelly Nivison, a local Baroque expert and skilled flutist (in many of its different historical iterations!), gave remarks that provided helpful historical context to the pieces and the instruments on which they were played.
The historically-dense concert began with the latest published work, interestingly enough. The opening Allegro from Wind Quintet in A, Op. 91, No. 5 by Anton Reicha featured Nivison, Giardino, Sarah Huebsch Schilling on oboe, Rachel Niketopolous on horn, and Kelsey Schilling on an 1829 Savary Jeune bassoon (loaned by the Daniel Ponder and Katherine Williams Ponder Trust for this composition in particular). This gorgeously preserved instrument, which Schilling introduces and discusses in a charming Facebook video released days before the performance, is less than ten years younger than the actual composition! The first movement of this work alternates between stately fanfares and lyrical cadences, full of sudden transitions. The performers all displayed incredible control and flexibility on their historical replica (and one original!) instruments, showing their mastery of multiple iterations in their instruments' families. Each of them was afforded at least one opportunity to display brilliant and nuanced technique, often paired up in changing groups to interesting timbral effect – one of the elements that set Reicha apart as an experimental and forward-looking composer.
The second work was the full Concerto of Oboe, Chalumeau, and Bassoon by Johann Adolph Hasse. The chalumeau, believed to be an early ancestor of the modern clarinet, was more often seen as a folk instrument, although Telemann and Graupner regularly wrote for it. While Giardino was not able to perform on a chalumeau – they are too long, thus unable to be tuned to the 430Hz intonation the Camerata was using – he delivered lovely, highly ornamented flourishes throughout the concerto. Hasse's work is full of melodic elements of his operatic roots, despite his solidly early-Baroque, galant-style compositional techniques. Schilling's bassoon (having returning to his usual 1705 replica) was technical and expressive as its own solo voice; though often serving as a rhythmic intermediary between parts, the bassoon line shone brilliantly in the fourth movement Allegretto ma poco, skittering deftly through quick triplet figures.
Finishing the first portion of the program, the personnel rearranged into a harpsichord quartet for CPE Bach's Keyboard Quartet in D. Nivison explained that she was playing a 1790s replica instrument with a mellow sound (but with keys to facilitate the many difficult harmonic modulations - this is very difficult when you only have eight or nine finger holes!). Jennifer Streeter played harpsichord, Chris Nunnally played cello, and Joey O'Donnell completed the ensemble on viola. This work is an excellent example of the composer's ubiquitous empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style), which, according to the program notes by Barbara Norton, is "marked by outbursts of activity interrupted by pregnant pauses." Nunnally and O'Donnell employed delicate touch to complement the harpsichord's crisp, refined motion, and all four players again displayed graceful yet complex solo moments throughout a deliberate first and second movement, culminating in the unapologetically cheerful Allegro. Throughout the work, the players seemed physically relaxed, which added an element of finesse and effortlessness.
The headliner of the afternoon was Beethoven's Septet in E-Flat (the Camerata performed the first, second, and final movements of the seven-movement work). Concertmaster Allison Willet led O'Donnell, Nunnally, bassist Robbie Link, Giardino, Schilling, and Niketopolous in a timbrally-diverse performance. This work, early in Beethoven's career yet compositionally forward-thinking, is densely textured, utilizing interesting and ever-changing combinations of wind and string instruments paired together. The horn, bassoon, and cello disappeared a little into the sound, but often worked together with Link's bass to provide a strong, unified framework upon which the more melodic lines could rely. Niketopolous delivered some lovely, sweet moments where the horn felt like it was illustrating the sun peeking through a cloud. Willet struggled a bit to blend inherently thin (by comparison) violin timbre into the ensemble, resulting in what occasionally came across as inconsistency in intonation; however, her playing was technically brilliant and especially effervescent in the finale cadenza. The performers handled this complicated work with grace and enthusiasm, Nunnally embodying a particularly joyful affect that seemed to burst from his whole body, which was delightfully contagious through the celebratory final movement.
This is a highly skilled collection of musicians, both the core Raleigh Camerata players and their guest artists, and the amount of appreciation they have for early music performance is palpable not only in their attention to details of technique and interpretation, but in passionate and insightful playing. Having participated in an Alexander Technique workshop given by Niketopolous in the past, I especially appreciated the apparent ease that I seemed to see in the players' bodies. Whether or not all of the performers are trained in Alexander Technique or have worked to unlearn habits of tension during playing, they were all compelling performers that made their playing look comfortable and easy.