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Early Music Review Print

Chatham Baroque, Españoleta: Baroque Instrumental Music from Spain and Latin America

November 22, 2002 - Asheville, NC:

The date was Friday, November 22, 2002. The venue was Lipinsky Auditorium, at UNC-Asheville. The players were Julie Andrijeski and Emily Davidson, violins, Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba, Scott Pauley, theorbo and Spanish guitar, and guest percussionist Daniel Mallon.

Patricia Halverson came on stage with her viola da gamba, sat, and began to play one sustained note. Suddenly, over this drone, from backstage, the magic violins of Julie Andrijeski and Emily Davidson began to swirl and twirl as they processed on stage. Lilting, dancing, smiling, the three string players - and yes, even Halverson, with her viol between her knees, was dancing - began an evening of joyous spells and incantations cast on the audience using the powers of music.

The music of the evening was dance music, arranged by Chatham Baroque from Maurice Esses's Dance and Instrumental Diferencias .... And what clever and sensitive arrangements they were. CB brought us into the midst of a 17th-18th-century working dance band, and a very good one at that. There were many young people in the audience who have never known a time without music on CDs, but CB took us to an era when the only music was live music and when people hungry for music rejoiced in whatever resources they had. Every community, whether in Spain or the rural south of 150 years ago had its favorite music makers; Southern lore is filled with stories of "Old whassiname," the slave or former slave fiddler without whom a dance could not be held. Many a roomful of happy couples danced to exhaustion with only a lone flute, fiddle or banjo as the musical ribbon that bound them all to time. To have Andrijeski, Davidson and Halverson, and to have them joined by Scott Pauley, theorbo and Spanish guitar, and Daniel Mallon, percussion, made this a very special dance band. Just as the popular songs of a time and region could be played on flute or fiddle or banjo, so CB, using their resources, played the songs of 17th-18th-century Spain, combining several composers' variations on a single tune into one rollicking and intense dance set.

The music was slow and mostly fast by turns; both composition and performance were as fiery as a Spanish sunset, as hot as an August night, heady as wine, as beautiful as the idealized señorita, as forceful as her señor. Beyond that, there is not much I can say about the individual pieces, all of it new to me except for the tune of La Folia, which CB set out with variations as "Folias after various composers."

Scott Pauley had even less scope for dancing than Halverson when he was playing his seven-foot theorbo. This, the bass of the lute family, is tall enough to play pro basketball. When Pauley stood it upright on the floor, he could just reach the tuning pegs by stretching upwards. When not playing the theorbo, he used a "Spanish guitar" which he plied with skill and vigor.

CB's performances are characterized by intense body language and interaction among the performers. Andrijeski and Davidson performed standing, bowing and swaying to each other and to the audience. Halverson, though seated, was just as sprightly. Pauley likewise when playing his guitar, still excelled in eye contact and sly grins in sheer delight at the music and his appreciative audience. Guest artist David Mallon, percussion, had the slyest grins of all.

Mallon was a one-man band. In his hands he played one of a series of frame drums and shakers. He tapped a block with his right foot. He had a basket shaker bound to his left loafer. He is Master of morrocas and Doctor of drumming! Some of his frame drums had jingles; they would be what the common people call tambourines.

Following intermission, the group opened with an ancient tune they "had found in an old book in the library of Biltmore House" and arranged in honor of the UNC-A presenter: "Happy Birthday" in the style of 17th- century Spain.

All that they did was well-received by the audience, who called them back for several bows. CB then obliged with a rousing encore, with the same passion as the rest of the evening. Following the concert, UNC-A Cultural and Special Events offered refreshments and a chance to meet the musicians in the lobby. CB has a series of NC appearances planned for the spring of 2003, followed by five engagements at Piccolo Spoleto, in Charleston. Watch the CVNC calendar next spring (or see CB's tour dates now, at http://www.chathambaroque.org/schedule2.html [inactive 6/05]) and be sure to see them.