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In the acoustically excellent Orringer Auditorium of Craven Community College, the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra presented a diverse program of instrumental Baroque music under the title Stranger in a Strange Land: The Musical Story of Outside Composers, for composers of one nationality who lived and worked under another rule.
An announced substitution in the orchestra was concertmaster regular Martie Perry, who was ill; her place was taken pro temp by the very proficient Janelle Davis. The NCBO is large for a baroque ensemble, with twenty-two players on stage for this event.
The Ouverture from Céphale et Procris was composed in 1694 by Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, who was unique in that she was a female composer in a male-dominated world. The tempo was great, but the dynamic was rather flat, always forte.
Jean-Baptiste Lully was born Lulli in Florence and was brought to France when he was fourteen to converse in Italian with a nobleman's daughter. The orchestra played a Passacaille from the opera Armide, 1686. Of particular note in this piece was a fine flute solo; all the winds were excellent. The rhythms were sprightly, not quite double-dotted, but headed nicely in that direction.
The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who composed the NCBO's following String Quartet in C minor, Op.1, No. 4, takes the prize for most extreme transition. He was born on the island of Guadeloupe, the son of a married French planter and a Senegalese slave. He was taken to France when he was seven for his education. The string quartet was played by the full orchestra with the announced justification that in the Baroque era, orchestral pieces were frequently played with one instrument to a part, so it should follow that quartets can be played by an orchestra. This was a qualified but pleasant success.
George Frideric Handel, as many know, was born in Germany, went to Italy, and then went on to England to become the most English of Englishmen. The orchestra presented five pieces from the opera Rinaldo (1731), composed in England with lots of borrowing from his previous works composed in Italy. The Overture was stylish in performance; the reeds were best of show, especially the very talented oboist Sung Lee. Violinist David Wilson stood and took a prominent place to play the vocal line of two arias, "Combatti da forti" and "Cara sposa." Wilson is one of my favorite violinists and is very talented, but not all the talent in the world can make a violin sound like a soprano or countertenor, especially against the massed forces of NCBO. The Adagio and Gigue were both much more musically satisfying.
Georg Philipp Telemann was never in a strange land, but his compositions can hardly be omitted from a Baroque concert. The orchestra performed a concerto consisting of Largo, Allegro, Dolce, and Allegro movements. The complicated bouncing of flautist Chuck Wines was more suggestive of Dalcroze than the Baroque era, but his music was excellent.
Georg Muffat was born in Savoy, studied in Paris, went on to Germany, Prague, Vienna, and Italy; he was in a lot of strange lands. His Passacaglia is from Sonata No. 5 from Armonico Tributo (1682). Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was J. S. Bach's musically prolific eldest son. He was only in a strange land in the sense that his emotional instability may have made him ill-suited for any land. We heard the Adagio and Allegro from his Sinfonia in D minor (Falck Catalog 65).
The concert concluded with Rameau's Chaconne from Dardanus (1739), well-suited as a concluding piece for its intensity and rousing conclusion. In this piece and throughout, never did so much come from a single person as came from the single violone played by Sarah Wines. The powerful line that she coaxed from it undergirded, supported, and enhanced the entire evening.
NCBO has already traveled to other destinations this month with this program. There is one more chance for North Carolinians to enjoy on Sunday, April 23 in Davidson. See our sidebar for details.