Durham’s lovely First Presbyterian Church was packed with music lovers for the last concert of the first annual North Carolina HIP (Historically Informed Performance) Music Festival which ran January 27-February 3. Local artists joined with nationally-known early music performers for a series of concerts and workshops in both Durham and Chapel Hill. This final program, “Bach is Back, with Friends,” was a marvelous survey of the styles and techniques of a broad range of Baroque composers and an ideal showcase for the collective and individual talents of the festival’s musicians. The concert was dedicated to Richard Luby, who did so much to promote HIP music in the Triangle and whose sudden passing has deprived the community of a great advocate and friend.
The Concerto for Strings in C minor, RV 118, by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), opened the concert. This is a concerto ripieno, which differs from the standard concerto in that no single instrument or group of instruments has all the solos. The HIP string players produced a fine, warm string sound with good intonation. Rhythms were vital as melodies were tossed about between string sections. Harpsichordist Elaine Funaro brought off the unusually complex continuo part beautifully.
Georg Muffat (1653-1704) was born of Scottish and French ancestry, grew up in Alsace (famous for the mixing of French and German cultures), and studied music in Paris. His professional travels took him to Vienna, Prague, and Augsburg. He imbibed Italian style while on a sabbatical in Rome, where he studied with Arcangelo Corelli. He worked in Alsace, Salzburg, and Passau. Muffat eclectically drew upon all these national styles in his compositions.
Muffat published five chamber concertos in the Italian style, Armonico Tributo, in 1682; they were written in Rome, modeled after Corelli, and first played by Corelli's orchestra. Given here was the Sonata No. 3, in A. Although entitled “Sonatas,” these works are early forms of the concerto, and each is scored for five-part strings with harpsichord continuo. Unlike Corelli’s typical four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast, Muffat’s piece is in six movements. Numbers III Corrente, V Gavotta, and VI Rondeau, are based on French dance rhythms. The HIP players gave a vital performance with each movement strongly characterized, rhythmically and dynamically. The pairing of David Wilson’s and Peter Lekx’s violins in the second movement was delightful, as was Funaro’s use of the lute stop in the finale.
George Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) composed more than 3,000 works during his career and was very highly regarded, but his reputation suffered during the 19th century and has only begun to be fully appreciated in recent decades. He was very innovative, was a pioneer in adopting German-language score markings, and pushed for the property rights of composers for their works. He made extensive use of the various national styles. While he was Kapellmeister for the Court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau (now Żary, in Poland) in 1705, he heard and studied Polish and Moravian folk music, which he called a limitless well of inspiration.
The Concerto in A minor for Recorder and Viola da gamba, TWV 52:a1 (c. 1725-35,) is a good example of Telemann’s inventiveness and instrumental skill. It is in sonata da chiesa form, four movements alternating slow-fast-slow-fast. The fast movements alternate between solo and full ensemble as in Italian concertos. The solemn opening grave is modeled after the style of a French overture. Polish folk music elements are synthesized in the playful melody of the delightful finale.
Frances Blaker, recorder, and Brent Wissick, viola da gamba, turned in brilliant and engaging performances. Intonation and phrasing by both were superb. The third movement, marked Dolce, was a gossamer delight with its reduced, quiet accompaniment and brief supplemental support from violinist Peter Lekx and baroque cellist Barbara Krumdieck, supported by Funaro’s sparse lute stop.
Every music lover ought to be better acquainted with the major works of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), whom many consider to have been the most outstanding violin virtuoso of the 17th century. He made considerable use of multiple stops and various scordatura in his many works. His Rosary Sonatas belong next to Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for Violin on every serious music lover’s shelf.
Biber’s eight-movement Battalia à 10 in D (1673) is a remarkable work, a sort of baroque program music on warlike themes popular at the time. The very good HIP program notes, compiled by Tony Sprinkle, point to several technical innovations that did not become common until the 19th and 20th centuries. In the first movement, string players tap their strings with the wood of the bow instead of the hair. The next important use of this was by Berlioz in his Symphony Fantastique of 1830. In comments before the performance, Brent Wissick drew attention to the simultaneous use of some 70 folk songs in the second movement, called “The debauched company with sundry humor.” This example of counterpoint in multiple tonalities would not be used seriously until the very late 19th century. The fourth movement, a march named after the Greek god of war Mars, creates the sound of a snare drum by having the violone player place a sheet of paper between his fingers and the strings on the finger board. Wissick said Biber had “stolen” this movement from Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. The players were arranged in roughly equal groupings for the “The Battle,” the seventh movement in which the opposing cellists fire “shot” by plucking their strings so hard they rebound off the fingerboard, “a technique now known as the Bartók pizzicato, after the 20th century composer who first used it extensively.”
The players gave a hearty and vivid performance of Battalia. The second movement, which portrays the multicultural make-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s armies, is a hilarious caterwauling as so many snippets are played at once! Robbie Link, paper under his left hand’s fingers, made a very convincing snare drum out of his bright new violone.
Because it requires a relatively small number of players, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, S.1048, is one that is most often programmed as a stand-alone, and it made a fine conclusion for this first annual HIP Music Festival. It is believed to be the earliest of the set of six concertos. “The parts are equally distributed among the three string sections, each of which alternate between playing passages in unison and playing individual solos simultaneously.” For this performance, the controversial second movement consisting of a single measure with two chords was played with a brief harpsichord cadenza by Elaine Funaro. The HIP players gave an inspired and polished performance which augurs well for the return of the festival.