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On the first Tuesday evening of the Eastern Music Festival, EMF faculty showed off some of its talent, helping to kick off a glorious month-long celebration of music. This all-Baroque concert featured the works of Bach, Vivaldi, and more unknown composers, with excellent performers on harpsichord, violin, viola, cello, flute, oboe, bassoon, and – wait for it – trombone. Spanning the full range of the Baroque era, these works illustrated the depth and diversity of an often-oversimplified musical tradition, also highlighting some of the mainstays of EMF; high-caliber performers and talented scholars in the faculty that will surely inspire many students this summer.
Setting the tone of the evening with Antonio Vivaldi's Chamber Concerto in F, RV 99, were some EMF veteran instructors and performers: Les Roettges, flute; Randall Ellis, oboe; George Sakakeeny, bassoon; Ariadna Bazarnik-Ilika, violin; Rebecca Zimmerman, cello; and Esther Park, harpsichord. This traditional take on a concerto presented the three winds and violin as soloists before a backdrop of reserved continuo on the harpsichord and cello. Park had one stutter in tempo, corrected by Roettges' heavily tapping foot, but she and Zimmerman were otherwise flawless collaborators. The overall tone of the work was light and elegant, yet rich enough to project across the large hall and allow all performers to really shine. Using different combinations of modern and period-appropriate instruments is always a risk, but the lightness of the players on their modern instruments allowed the harpsichord to pop without being overpowered.
J.S. Bach's solo Flute Partita in A minor, BWV 1013, followed, performed by Jake Fridkis. This four-movement, unaccompanied work is a large undertaking, and Fridkis performed it with all the charm and precision of a modern-day Rampal – who was not known for completely adhering to Baroque styles of performing, but putting a rich, modern spin on Bach's works. Fridkis tread on the line between a historically-faithful performance and a more modern interpretation, occasionally leaning into modern Romanticism with gratuitous vibrato. There are already many arguments out there regarding how the modern flutist ought to perform works originally composed for early iterations of the instrument, and this is not the time to revisit them; but it's worth noting that Fridkis usually maintained a smooth, light tone, allowing Bach's writing to shine in its complexity without ornamentation. He played around with the gestures, allowing for contrast, exciting suspensions, and sweet rubatos. The fourth movement, a staple in flute repertoire, was obviously his favorite to perform, and its rhythm was infectious.
Many of the earlier chamber players returned for Johann Gottlieb Janitsch's Sonata de Camera á 4 in C minor: Roettges, Ellis, Zimmerman and Park, now with Naomi Graf joining them on the viola. One of the composers of the Berlin School (including CPE Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Anthony Heinrich), Janitsch served Frederick the Great and helped to establish the "Friday Academies," weekly court concerts that showcased new works, performers, and sometimes even allowed for Frederick himself to pick up his flute and perform along with his court musicians. Interestingly, the flute parts in the third movement are suitably flashy and impressive but more manageable than they might appear so that the ruler would be able to appropriately wow his audiences. The balance of the three solo instruments was good but did not always allow the viola to act as an equal melody instrument; the modern viola is still more mellow than the sound of a flute or oboe and Graf occasionally had a hard time projecting. However, the ensemble gave a thrilling performance of this later-Baroque work, demonstrating its more heavy-handed accents and flashy melodic sequences.
After an intermission (and obligatory harpsichord re-tuning), a smaller ensemble presented an unusual set: Bazarnik-Ilika and Park welcomed trombonist Mike Kris to perform Adam Jarzębski's Concerto Primo and Giovanni Battista Riccio's Canzon a 2, "La Pichi." Both works are from the very early Baroque, influenced by more Renaissance-era composers like Palestrina, and they share the loss of information about the composers and their works. Kris has done extensive research on the early performance of the trombone and brought an instrument with a very small bell to balance the lightness of the violin and harpsichord. This pair of movements from partially-recovered larger movements was a little strange, but informative of the development of the Baroque era; the sumptuous melodic lines were often antiphonal (call and response between soloists) with conservative chords from the accompanying harpsichord.
Jarring the audience out of this light Baroque exploration came a modern interpretation of Bach's Gamba Sonata No. 1 in G, BWV 1027. Duo Julian Schwarz, cello, and Marika Bournaki, piano, gave a lavish and emotional performance, with expressive cadenzas and rich tone. Schwarz, the son of EMF director Gerard Schwarz, was lively and played with passionate vibrato and bowing. Similarly, Bournaki was engaging and dramatic in her playing, ratcheting up the drama with every movement until her melodies drowned out some of Schwarz' in the last movement. The aggression in their playing threatened to detract from the precision and refinement we associate with Baroque music: the dialogue between lines and complex and flashy developments, but the duo certainly played their hearts out.
Finally, Vivaldi's Sonata in A minor for flute and bassoon, RV 86, arrived to tie up the evening in a delicate bow. Settling back into a distinctly Baroque feeling, Roettges and Sakakeeny complemented each other beautifully with engaging dialogue of solo parts over Park's gentle touch and expressive rubato. The Largo Cantabile in the third movement was particularly impressive, allowing Roettges' flute to sing a sweet melody over an amazing arpeggiated accompaniment in Sakakeeny's bassoon, which was a reminder of just how lithe this underestimated instrument can be. The intricate interplay between all three players was contained yet charming, demonstrating, of course, Vivaldi's amazing capacity to show off the soloists in a distinctly elegant manner, but more importantly, the talent of some of EMF's most fantastic performers.
Performances by faculty, guest artists, and student orchestras continue through July 28.