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A standard Borscht Belt joke about food runs, "The food was like poison..., and such small portions." Neither complaint was true about the sangria on the porch of the Music House before the Venti Arioso performance. Good wines in generous portions are always a hallmark of the Music House, generally deferred until intermission. The party started earlier this time.
The cast of thousands, really just six, a perfect size for the Music House performance space, consisted of Richard Krumdieck, soprano and alto recorders, voice flute (a recorder, in this case pitched in D below the usual alto F); Alicia Chapman, baroque oboe; John Pruett, baroque violin; Barbara Krumdieck, baroque cello; Dan Smith, lute; and impresario John O'Brien, organ. I first had the privilege of hearing Alicia Chapman in February, 2004, in a concert in Hendersonville. I thought she was great then; I think she is still great. I've delighted at John Pruett in performances in Salisbury. John O'Brien keeps me coming back for more. I can now add Krumdieck, Krumdieck, and Smith to my short list of must-hear-agains, as well.
The ambitious program: Telemann: Quartet in G for recorder, oboe, violin, and basso continuo; Corelli: Trio Sonata in A for recorder, violin, and basso continuo; Dowland: "Now, Oh, Now"; Tarquino Merula: Ciacona for recorder, violi, and basso continuo; more Telemann: Trio Sonata in G minor for recorder, oboe, and basso continuo; Michel Corrette: Sonata 2 from Les Delices de la Solitude for cello and basso continuo; and Vivaldi: Concerto in G minor for recorder, oboe, violin, cello and basso continuo. When a program is described as "ambitious," that's usually code for "bit off more than they could chew." Such was definitely not the case with this big fat program. This ensemble made sweet music without exception.
Christolph Wolff's Bach, The Learned Musician, makes a convincing case that Bach saw Telemann, almost alone of his contemporaries, as a better composer. The complex and beautiful Quartet in G demonstrates that ability; it also allowed the band amply to demonstrate their prowess. The intonation was superb. Pruett's feathery violin technique was delicious. As O'Brien had predicted, the use of organ as part of the continuo underlaid the music with a smooth foundation unlike the loud pluck of a harpsichord. The tempos were sprightly, with especially effective drive in the third movement.
The combination of lute and organ in the Corelli featured excellent balance; the lute, not an overloud instrument, was perfect in this space for 60 people. The ensemble's playing was extremely fluid, with nuances easily perceived on the delicate baroque instruments. The intonation was again excellent, with special recognition for R. Krumdieck's recorder. The recorder led a rollicking charge in the final movement.
Smith accompanied himself as he sang the first stanza of the Dowland, and then the other instruments joined him in succeeding stanzas. His voice was friendly and unassuming, calling up images of a time of music made at home, but to a very high standard.
I've run into a spate of variations in recent concerts; that would include Merula's Ciacona [sic on the program*]. The Ciacona was a series of incredibly rich variations played over a recurring bass figure. These variations were a feast of real music, not just a simple theme and a few different accompaniments.
Intermission included generous portions of four different wines and tasty hors d'oeuvres by the Kinston Trio of Bolt, Landry, and Swann. The only false note of the evening was rung on a ghastly glass bell to summon the audience back to their seats. In a house of so many delectable sounds, that dud bell needs to go.
More Telemann next, the Trio Sonata in G minor. The smooth cello sound of B. Krumdieck was always obvious, always enough, never too much, never forced. The quick tempos throughout were led by the Chapman magic oboe. The comparison between Chapman's oboe and the Boehm-system oboe of the previous Music House concert was extreme and very much in the favor of the baroque. The heavy Boehm oboe was strident, the baroque, kind; the Boehm sounded loud but muffled or covered, the baroque, open and free.
Corrette's Second Sonata from Les Delices de la Solitude pointed out once more the superiority of historically informed performance. The lighter tension of strings and bow, as pointed out by Pruett, seems to facilitate in good players like these an ability to bring out nuances that would be lost on modern instruments. The second movement, Aria (Affetuoso), touched me deeply; then I heard the third movement (Allegro) and was moved even more, especially by B. Krumdieck's complex and unhesitating part. Brava!
Vivaldi's is some of the most accessible music of the baroque era; the Concerto in G minor is a good example of that. The Allegro was performed in a vigorous style. The Largo was a simple bicinium between recorder and lute, with simple clarity and a perfect balance of instruments. The Allegro Molto was a superb on-going dialog between oboe and violin in one camp and recorder and cello in the other; here the cello withdrew from the basso continuo and took a solo part.
There are occasions when star performers come together and though each plays superbly, the bond is not there and egos clash to the detriment of the music. Such was not the case in this concert, where six stars came together to form a brilliant constellation!
*Editor's note: Variations in the spelling of chaconne-ciacona-ciaconna-ciaccona may exceed the number of variations penned by composers in some baroque suites!