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In the (hopefully) remote event you haven't noticed, the 2020 North Carolina HIP Music Festival is in full swing – it's a whole month of delights (through Feb. 28) for Triangle fanciers of mostly early music performed on original instruments or copies thereof in accordance with what we now believe is historically-informed practice (or HIP for short). This sort of thing is hardly new, even hereabouts, but the big biennial celebration, coordinated by Suzanne Rousso and the Mallarmé Chamber Players, has become far and away our state's largest gathering of HIPsters. It's a convocation of sorts, with lots of sharing of players among the many concerts. It's worth celebrating, in lots of ways – by participation, if that's your bent, or by attendance, and with patronage and lots of encouragement – because this sort of thing doesn't just happen – it takes a huge amount of work to pull it off. Three cheers!
We've been talking about the Raleigh Camerata a good bit of late, and one of the HIP Fest's highlights brought the ensemble front-and-center again as, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon – 'twas the calm after the storm – the group and a slew of savvy augmentees – 16 all told – betook themselves to the lovely sanctuary of Hayes Barton UMC for what appears to be the biggest single concert of the month: a whole (chamber) orchestra of HIP artists, massed for performances of music by C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart. (Yes, we know that's inching into the Classical period, but some renditions of Berlioz and even Brahms can be HIP, too.)
We'll call out the artists below, because there are few enough of 'em to name and because there were some name changes since the Camerata's website was updated – but do look there because the photo shows all the people who played, and it's impressive to see such a big swath of high-powered folks – and functioning, too, with chamber-music precision, with no stick-waver on the scene (but with plenty of watchfulness and a lot more cueing as the music unfolded).
The music was altogether admirable, and the way it was brought to life on this occasion made it even more special than might otherwise have been the case. I mean, who really knew – be honest now! – how much passion and fire could emerge from a C.P.E. Bach Sinfonia (in this case, a three-movement work in E minor, Wq.178)? This may have been the highlight of the afternoon, in terms of the revelatory quality of the playing. But there was more, as the third of Haydn's "Morning-Noon-&-Evening" symphonies, "Le Soir," H.I:8, was brilliantly repositioned in what we can only imagine was something reasonably akin to the sonic environment of its birth. There was something quite extraordinary in these performances, in which the early winds were so magnificently set and balanced against the comparatively few strings. Even the harpsichord – there to fill in harmony and texture but sometimes more felt than heard (which is to say you might well have noticed if it hadn't been there but you probably weren't always conscious of its actual presence…) – was central to the sonority and audible where its presence was essential. And those lovely instrumental pairs – the oboes, the flutes, the horns – ah! How splendid to hear them so clearly, so cleanly articulated, and never once awash! And then there was that last movement, marked "La Tempesta" – with its hints at what Beethoven was to do in the Pastorale!
(And how they all held together on tuning – well, these players have come a long way since the early days of more tuning than playing at original instruments events….)
Artistic director Nivison had spoken of the program as exemplifying the evolution of the symphony, in a way. We certainly got a good impression of how that might have been, from these early works. And then there was the last: Mozart's Symphony No. 21, in A, K.134. It, too, came across as more vibrant, more intense, more dramatic, and altogether richer in sonority – and far more lively – than anticipated by this listener, for sure.
Everyone loves Mozart. Haydn, too. Maybe even C.P.E.? Well, maybe. As played by these specialist practitioners, this was a concert to write home about. How very richly blessed we were by this experience. HIP rules!
Kelly Nivison and Charles Wines, classical flutes
Sarah Huebsch-Schilling and Sung Lee, classical oboes
Kelsey Schilling, classical bassoon
Rachel Niketopoulos and Chris Caudill, natural horns
Allison Willet, Matvey Lapin, Leah Peroutka, and Robert Garbarz, violins
Joey O'Donnell, viola
Sarah Lodico Wines and Chris Nunnally, cellos
Robbie Link, double bass
& Jennifer Streeter, harpsichord
The night before, in St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, in Durham, Baroque & Beyond gave its HIP Festival concert, presenting string players Matvey Lapin, violin, and Chris Nunnally, cello, along with William Thauer, oboe and recorder, and B&B AD Beverly Biggs, harpsichord, in a comparably glorious albeit smaller-scaled program of music by Georges – Telemann, Muffat, and Handel. This program's highlights were three Telemann cantatas (of a thousand or so, all told, as we learned… – Egad, that's a whole lotta cantatas!), sung with special radiance and keen interpretive excellence by the glorious mezzo-soprano Tamsin Simmill, whose voice alone has the power to transport listeners to happier places, even without HIP accompaniment. One of the cantatas stood out for the text of its first aria, which begins:
Away with Sodom’s poisonous fruits // Along with Egypt’s fleshpots. // Away, away with all sour food! // Sweet and pure the Christian's Passover must be…. (What a way to cap a Friday evening….)
Still, a grand time was had by all. Again we say, Three Cheers for this year's HIP Fest and its grand artists.
For more information, see our calendar or visit the HIP Fest site.