The Baroque era of music emerged from a very specific socio-cultural context of history, one that is distinctly foreign to us citizens of the 21st Century. The patronage of a smattering of wealthy aristocracy and monarchs, as well as the church, has morphed into something a tad more egalitarian. The music itself reflected its immediate predecessors in the Renaissance and the concept of accepted segregation of emotion. Individual sections of music may be plain or augmented and embellished, but each portrayed a singular emotion, a singularity of style. Dynamics, while not as rigidly terraced loud-soft as is often depicted, were still distinct and clean. But, Baroque audiences loved virtuosity; we still do. Baroque audiences loved artistry; we still do. And, amazingly, despite the passage of 250-400 years, we still adore the beauty of that most Baroque of oxymorons--ornate simplicity.
Violinist Gabriel Lefkowitz performs Bach's E Major Violin Concerto with James Fellenbaum and the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra. (Photograph courtesy of StuckInsideofKnoxville.com)
Knoxville audiences obviously adore the Baroque, as well. Last year's Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert featuring Baroque composers was one of the most popular events of the season. And, last Sunday's beautifully performed KSCO concert of Bach and Handel at the Bijou was almost as equally well attended, despite the uncomfortable late winter cold.
KSO Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum has been given the keys to the Baroque this season and next and that seems to be working out great. Fellenbaum clearly has an affinity for the Baroque passion that hides in the structure and he understands how to build excitement and drama in the Baroque fashion, sans an overt swell or crescendo.
Maybe as a reward to Baroque lovers, Bach's Brandenburg concertos are going to be heard a lot between now and next spring. Starting it all off, Fellenbaum opened Sunday's concert with the Brandenburg No. 1 in a nicely paced performance. I admit, though, that I halfway expected the horns to be turned loose (but thankfully not), fanfare-esque, to reflect the current fad in using the later Cöthen performance versions that have appeared.
Next, KSO concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz joined his orchestra colleagues, but this time as soloist in Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major. As we have come to expect, Lefkowitz attacked the work with precision and focus, floated on clean tones and crisp entrances. Fellenbaum's attention to the motion of details (and the details of motion) in the broad passages was clear explanation why modern choreographers love this piece so much.
After intermission, Georg Frideric Handel got his turn, first with the Concerto Grosso, opus 6, no. 2, then with Music for the Royal Fireworks. In the latter, Fellenbaum's overall slightly brisk tempos were refreshing and took a lot of heaviness out that always seem to weigh down the work for me. While this puts a little more burden of quick detail on the brass, the KSO players handled it with grace and confidence.