St. Matthias Episcopal Church was the site of a concert by the Farallon Recorder Quartet, who had opened the second annual Echo Early Music Festival the previous night by delivering the same program in Brevard.

Annette Bauer, from Germany, was schooled in Switzerland and UC Santa Cruz. Letitia Berlin was educated at UNC Greensboro and Case Western Reserve University. Frances Blaker holds degrees from the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music. Louise Carslake is a graduate of Trinity College of Music, London. This international four joined forces in the San Francisco Bay area, where they formed the Farallon Recorder Quartet, an affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society. Playing variously on medieval-style and baroque instruments that have been made for them as matched sets (sopranino and bass recorders and everything in between), the group demonstrated recorder ensemble music at its most professional level.

The theme was “The Golden Age: Music of England.” The arrangement of the program showed insight. The first half carried us from the fourteenth century through the height of the baroque era to conclude with a contemporary piece. Then the second half did almost the same thing, with fifteenth and sixteenth century pieces preceding more baroque music and another contemporary piece. By dividing the chronology this way, we were spared an overdose of the limited harmonic thought that informed the renaissance. Instead, that period was demonstrated in two smaller doses that went down better than one big one. Noteworthy were the two samples of songs by King Henry VIII, with nice passing notes and flowing runs, and the William Cornish song “Adieu! mes amours” that contained some lovely gestures. Had Cornish added some development to the grounded thoughts he had created, this could have been a longer and revolutionary piece. He had enough thematic material to provide for protean variations, but that was not the style of the time. 

As you can tell, renaissance music always makes me long for the innovations that came out of Italy to Germany and created the high baroque, and it was the baroque period that provided the summits of the evening. Two fantasias by Henry Purcell included the haunting Fantasia 11 (dated 19 August 1680), played with beautiful control and impeccable blending. A transcription of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major, RV114, rang like a glass harmonica at times, taking full advantage of the purity of sound that is a hallmark of good recorder performances, enhanced by the accurate intonation that one hears only with the best of recorder players. It is not easy to play forte or fortissimo on a recorder without overblowing and driving the instrument sharp. Rounding out the baroque on the second half of the program were two pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art of the Fugue, fully intended by Bach to be transcribed for any number of different instruments or instrumental groupings.

As mentioned, each half of the program concluded with contemporary works. Three pieces from Jan Van der Roost’s 2005 work I Continenti were played before intermission. The work attempts to provide sonic effects reflecting the different regions (Africa, Asia and South America). The ensemble used flutter tonguing, percussion accompaniment, and other modern gestures. The result was an excellent performance of a mediocre work. More successful was Matthias Maute’s Les fleurs dissipées, a recent three-movement work whose second movement included undulant shimmers that were the acoustic equivalent of rippling light and whose final movement, in a laid-back jazz mode, conjured up thoughts of a saxophone that had taken smoothie pills. I loved it.

The Echo Early Music Festival, whose parent organization is Keowee Chamber Music, will continue through March 8. The festival features different performers each week, with two or three performances each weekend variously in Asheville, Brevard, Davidson and Tryon, NC and in Greenville, SC.