Classical Cafe:

Review: KSO's 'Baroque Wonders'

Yes, I'm a bit late in reporting on some of the more important events over the last few days, but I'm here to make amends. First, Tuesday was National Pancake Day, a commemoration that, given my love for a special recipe blend of buckwheat and whole wheat flours, is very close to the heart of existence.

Importantly, too--Tuesday was the birth date of the Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678), who was represented on Sunday's KSO Chamber Classics concert of Baroque music by one of the over 500 concertos he wrote--in this case, the Concerto for Two Violins, Cello and Strings in D minor, RV 565. In its entirety, this was no white-flour concert, but one that was as rich, flavorful, and nutritious as they come for lovers of Baroque music. The concert was led by KSO resident conductor James Fellenbaum and was brilliantly successful in illuminating the intensity and depth of Baroque music.

The concert included works by Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach, but it should be mentioned that, unlike later 18th and 19th Century music, the life and art circumstances in which these three composers worked were all completely different. In the case of Vivaldi, he was working at an orphanage for girls in Venice, Pio Ospedale della Pietà, where he trained the pupils and wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for the proficient ensembles. The concerto, no doubt composed during his early years there, was one of 12 for numbers of violins and strings published under the title L'estro armonico in 1711.

On the other hand, Handel, German by birth, was living and working in London in 1739, working not so much under patronage or an employer, but for himself, as one of the first composer/promoters in music history. His concerti grossi (the Concerto Grosso in D Major, opus 6, no. 5 on this concert) were written as interludes between sections of larger works to fill out programs.

Despite these different Baroque milieus, and at risk of sounding dismissive, the Vivaldi and Handel works were attractive period setups for the two J.S. Bach works on the program--two of the Brandenburg concerti, the No. 4 in G Major and the No. 5 in D Major. The Brandenburgs reveal the absolute, undeniable genius of Bach in both melodic invention and harmonic diversity.

In the No. 4, a solo violin is featured along with two flutes, taken by concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz and flutists, Ebonee Thomas and Jill Bartine. This was a masterful, if not dazzling, performance, perfectly balanced and richly detailed, solidly supported by the strings and harpsichord.

The No. 5, featuring harpsichord, flute, and violin, concluded the afternoon. The harpsichordist Michael Unger, a visiting performer from CCM (University of Cincinnati), was stunning in the long, complex, and virtuosic cadenza in the first Allegro movement. Unger was matched in performance charm and solidity by violinist Lefkowitz and flutist Thomas. Conductor Fellenbaum kept the work--the whole afternoon, actually--startlingly crisp and up tempo with delicious moments of attention to Baroque dynamics.

I'm rather grateful that the very familiar Adagio in G minor by Tomaso Albinoni was included on the program. This work, while immensely entertaining, does have the probable distinction of being one of classical music's hoaxes--20th Century musicologist Remo Giazotto claimed to have discovered this lost fragment after World War II. More likely, Giazotto wrote the work himself based on Albinoni passages. Hearing it live (organ performed by Unger), it has all of the hallmarks of a modern derivation. Nevertheless, it does have an intense emotional effect on the listener which was, after all, one of the intentions of Baroque music.
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All six of the Brandenburg Concertos can be heard on the next KSO Masterworks concert pair at the Tennessee Theatre on Thursday and Friday, March 20 and 21. Nos. 1, 3, and 4 will be heard on the Thursday evening performance; the remaining Nos. 2, 5, and 6 on Friday evening. 

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About This Blog


Alan Sherrod serves up a big plate of nourishing commentary on the Knoxville classical music and fine arts scene.