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On a fine Saturday, a concert by the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra entitled "The Enchanted Baroque" was a most pleasant afternoon delight. Arriving fifteen or so minutes before the announced concert time, the audience was greeted with a delightful array of Baroque woodwind pieces performed from the choir loft at the back of the music-friendly sanctuary at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. This entrance music included a couple of magnificent fanfares/marches and ended with "March for the Entrance of the Turks" by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87), performed by three oboes and bassoon.
The formal concert began with artistic director and conductor Frances Blaker on the podium leading a performance of Sinfonia "Il Germanico" by Italian Baroque composer and teacher of singing, Nicolo Porpora (1686-1768). A lively Allegro made full use of the natural horns (no valves). The Adagio was an heroic duet by the two horns, and the closing Passepied was a quiet song. The performance, both technically and musically, was outstanding. The fine horn players were Chris Caudill and Rachel Niketopoulos.
For the last three years, the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra has assembled for a week-long retreat in eastern North Carolina during which the orchestra works with director Blaker to refine their skills as specialists in Baroque performance. They use instruments modeled or originally from the Baroque era and music practices grounded from the Baroque era. The practice of a week-long retreat, followed by a series of concerts across the state, produces a fine mastery of the music and the styles as evidenced in this concert.
Next on the program, representing the German High Baroque, was Concerto á Viola d'Amore by Johann Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) The viola d'amore solo was divided among four players: Marta Howard, Joey O'Donnell, Suzanne Rousso, and Alisa Stutzbach. Composed in a fast-slow-fast format, the opening Vivace is an elegant dance, the Adagio features pizzicato and the closing Vivace is a tuneful wave of sound. Baroque strings of gut produced a warm and rich sound (but also a need for frequent tuning).
The French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) gave us a taste of richly ornamental Rococo music with excerpts from Les Surprises de l'amour. "Premier Entrée – Overture" started off with full orchestra, horns soaring over it all, leading to some beautiful work from the woodwinds. In the "Scéne Funébre" from Castor et Pollux, the descending four-note pattern made the most of the grief so expressed. Closing with the Chaconne from Les Indes galantes, we heard heroic and noble music from Rameau's most successful and popular opera. The soaring flutists were Kathleen Kraft, Barbara Norton, Kim Pineda and Chuck Wines.
After an intermission, we came to Concerto for 4 Violins in B-flat, RV 553 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the champion of the late Italian Baroque. The four solo parts were distributed equally among all eight violinists: Janelle Davis, Tom LaJoie, Matvey Lapin, Martie Perry, Christi Salisbury, Belinda Swanson, Allison Willet, and David Wilson. This is typical Vivaldi, with skipping arpeggios and stimulating sixteenth-note patterns yielding to dazzling melodies that often end abruptly. The Largo has a throbbing basso line underpinning a gentle theme above. The closing Allegro establishes a tension that builds up to virtuosic scale runs topped off by big chords. The strong cellists who provided the solid basso continuo were Barbara Blaker Krumdiek, Sally Blaker, and Lisa Liske. The versatile harpsichordists were Beverly Biggs and Janet Scott.
The French Baroque or Rococo style returned with Jean Marie Leclair (1687-1764). The program choices were two excerpts from the composer's only opera, Scylla et Glaucus: Overture and "Airs en Rondeau." The Overture features florid ornamentation. The "Airs en Rondeau" is a masterful oboe ensemble that featured Sung Lee, Alan Paul, and Sarah Wiener.
The closing composer on this well-rounded program was ruler of Prussia for 46 years, supporter of the arts, and an accomplished musician. Friedrich der Grosse (1712-1786) composed his sinfonia "Il re pastore" in 1747. The first movement, Allegro, is a dazzling and delightful score. The second movement, Andante (Adagio), offers a lovely pastoral flute duet. And the third movement, Scherzando Allegro, is a dancing melody with conversation between strings and woodwinds. This symphony is Friedrich's most successful work and is quite frequently programed still today.
From beginning to end, this concert was a delight: there was excellent ensemble playing, impressive Baroque mastery, and fascinating selections of lyrical and dramatic music of the period. You could hardly ask for more – unless maybe after next summer's retreat workshop!
Note: This was the third of three performances of this program.