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The closing concert of the Cary Cross Currents Chamber Music Arts Festival featured the Brussels Chamber Orchestra with harpsichordist Jennifer Streeter performing music of charm and eloquence. Putting on a clinic of their superb ensemble, balance and musical integrity, they opened with Antonio Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in C, RV 116, a bright and airy piece in the fast-slow-fast format. It never ceases to amaze how music of the Italian Baroque period comes across as lively and fresh as though it were written in the light of this morning’s sunrise. This piece was no exception. The strings spritely danced and the harpsichord enriched the harmony and rhythm delightfully.
Georg Friedrich Handel went to Italy at age 21 to learn the style of Vivaldi and Corelli which was widely known and sought after at the time. The Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 6, No. 2 displays his mastery of the Italianate style; light and playful, but is also unmistakably Handel’s own music with a certain Germanic eloquence. An opening andante larghetto was stately; the following allegro was lilting and charming, the largo had a bit of touch of drama to it, and the closing presto virtually flew while giving me images of skipping. The gentle harpsichord and lower string continuo added a lightness and intimacy to the sound of the music.
Next on the program was music by the unique and inventive Bohemian-born composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704). He spent most of his creative life in Salzburg and was a remarkable violinist who expanded the range of performance possibilities of the instrument. He is best known today for his "Rosary" (or "Mystery") sonatas. His Battalia à 9 is a programmatic piece about soldiering. It’s eight sections include a rustic dance with foot stomping; a humorous medley of a disorderly company in which several instruments have their own say in total chaos (it sounded like something Charles Ives might have come up with); a depiction of Mars with the bass beating on the strings with his bow; a beautiful lilting aria played by two violins and two violas and harpsichord (to the soldier’s love back home?); a musical description of the battle with shots being represented by bass and cello hard snapping of strings against the fingerboard of the instrument; and finally, a lament for the wounded musketeer. All in all it was a delightful performance accomplished with wry humor, lyrical pleasure, and dramatic flair as perfectly befitting Biber’s unique music.
After intermission the audience was treated to a more down to earth late romantic composition by the Russian Alexander Glazunov. Less the nationalist than his previous generation, Glazunov’s style is more cosmopolitan, yet somewhat lacking in a distinctive personal style. His Five Novelettes, Op. 15, written when Glazunov was only 20, are dance-like character pieces which already display the composer's natural ability for rhythmic flair and harmonic invention, and each one has its own special timbre. The first movement, titled "Alla spanguolla" (in the Spanish style) was melodic and rhythmically inventive. The second movement, "Orientale" and the third movement, "Interludium in modo antico" were charming and diversionary. The fourth movement, an intriguing concert waltz was enchanting and the closing movement, drawing on themes of the previous movements summed things up nicely. The music was relative to that of the first half of the concert from the perspective of two hundred years later.
At the conclusion, the applause and cheering were enthusiastic and prolonged. For an encore, the Brussels Chamber Orchestra scrambled back on stage and brought out a reprise of the first movement of Biber’s Battalia. It left the audience and, from all appearances, the orchestra energized and delighted.
High praise is richly deserved to Carrie Knowles, U.S. Director and Neil Leiter, European Organizer, the town of Cary and all those who labored in many different ways to make the two weeks of the Cary Cross Currents Chamber Music Arts Festival something really special.