Summer camp for Baroque music performers: what a dream idea! Frances Blaker brought together some of the performers that she works with under the umbrella North Carolina Baroque Orchestra for just such roistering and hard work, on the grounds of Camp Caroline, on the banks of Dawson Creek, in Pamlico County. Following this rehearsal retreat, the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra stages three identical concerts, this year on successive nights in Arapahoe, New Bern, and Durham. The first was in Bethany Christian Church in Arapahoe, six miles from camp.
The program, an exciting collection of Baroque music by composers from France, Germany, and Italy, featured eighteen performers in addition to conductor and artistic director Blaker: Jeanne Johnson, Tom Lajoie, Matvey Lapin, Martha Perry (concertmaster), Christi Salisbury, Belinda Swanson, Allison Willet, Joey O'Donnell, Sally Blaker, Barbara Blaker Krumdieck (NBBO co-director), Lisa Liske-Doorandish, Webster Williams, Sarah Huebsch, Sarah Weiner, Kathleen Kraft, Barbara Norton, Kelsey Schilling, and Barbara Weiss. These accomplished professionals played, variously, violin, viola, cello, violone, viola da gamba, oboe, flute, bassoon, and harpsichord.
Even those who arrived before the stated hour were at first taken aback by the sounds of Trois pieces pour les flûtes et hautbois (H. 520) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier; to my relief I saw this billed on the program as "Entrance Music." What was audible over the full house was brisk and cheerful, with the characteristic Baroque oboe sound of quacking ducks and the distinctive mellow sounds of Baroque bassoon and one-keyed flutes.
The first piece on the program was the Sinfonia from Cantata S.42, by Bach. That the playing was slightly ragged may be ascribed to a rough start after lots of tuning. The weather had been nasty the whole week for gut strings, with thunderstorms, bright sunlight, and the barometer jumping up and down. The Bethany chancel was packed to the gills with the nineteen artists. This first piece would have been a little tense just figuring out whose elbow went where.
The Concerto III à più strumenti in E minor (Op. 5, No. 3) is a concerto grosso that could easily be ascribed to Vivaldi but was written by Italian composer and cellist Evaristo Felice dell'Abaco. As usual with Blaker productions, everybody played. The second movement began with a beautiful trio for two flutes and continuo, lovely music but with a slight intonation problem. The full orchestra soon entered with an enormous lovely rush of sound and good contrast between the concertino and the ripieno. A week or so of woodshedding with conductor Blaker certainly paid off; the orchestra was well together in all that they did and followed her lead precisely. Here tempi were good, and most of these pieces had the rhythmic drive that showed that they were actually going somewhere.
After a whole lotta tuning (but with excellent results!) came Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor for two violins, cello, strings and continuo, R.V. 578. Prior to this piece, Blaker extensively laid out her philosophy of orchestration: it's dull to stick to one part or one soloist; watch the solo being passed from player to player. "It will make your head spin." Sure enough, the solo was passed like who's got the button among the seven violins, the two flutes, and the two oboes; I couldn't be sure, but I think even the violas got a go at it! There was splendid bassoon backup for all of this.
Following intermission and more musical chairs, a smaller ensemble of perhaps a dozen string players, including viola da gamba, returned to perform Sinfonia Quinta (ca. 1660) by Johann Rosenmüller, a German who was a predecessor of Vivaldi at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. The even tone and careful intonation made beautiful music in Bethany.
In the same way that pyrotechnicians save their best shots for last, Blaker had two up her sleeve.
First, the Conclusion from Tafelmusik I in E minor by Telemann, originally scored for two flutes, strings, and continuo, here raised to glory with the addition of all the woodwinds. And glory it was, in that space, with Blaker's precise rhythms.
Lastly, the celebrated "Les caractères de la danse" by Jean-Féry Rebel, illustrating, in one concise piece, the rhythms of various dances: Prélude, Bourrée, Chaconne, Saraband, Gigue, Rigaudon, Passepied, Gavotte, Sonate, Loure, Musette, and Sonate. Although the tuning was beginning to slip a little, the audience was delighted at both this piece and the concert and offered the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra a standing ovation.
The NCBO will present this same program at 7:00 pm on Friday, August 3rd, in Orringer Auditorium on the campus of Craven Community College in New Bern and at 7:00 pm on Saturday, August 4th, in First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main Street, Durham. See our sidebar for details.