With Sunday’s survey of representative works that spanned the early seventeenth century to 1714, the capacity crowd was treated to an aural and visual doctoral thesis on the differences and similarities of certain English and Italian composers of the Baroque period. Both the instruments employed to produce the sounds and the manner in which those were drawn contributed to the learning if not always the product.
The basso continuo utilized the considerable skills of Terry McKenna’s theorbo (from the lute family), Michael Jarvis’ copy of a 1553 harpsichord and Margaret Gay’s steady cello, which faithfully reinforced the bottom line. The treble instruments were a pair of gut-string violins whose period bows were vigorously driven by Rona Goldensher and Kathleen Kajioka.
The overall balance was as uneven as the quality of the varied program. McKenna’s bass strings were secure yet his accompaniments remained more seen than heard and suffered from more than a few miss-hits, which, ironically, penetrated to the ear better than the fully supported tones. The opposite was true of Jarvis’ realizations, where the inner voices needed only a touch more “improvisation” in the frequently repeated sections to increase the impression of infectious spontaneity.
Rodman Hall’s physical plant and, hence, acoustics were not well suited to aiding the mix. With precious little vibrato (save for the later works of Matteis and Purcell) the tone of the violins drifted rather than soared, requiring both wooden floors and walls to infuse the pitches with colour and depth. The repeat performance at St. Mark’s Anglican Church—no doubt—will yield a better result.
The trio of English openers were cleanly presented but sometimes lacked a unanimous centre for the pulse and the all-important punctuation-by-breath between the many binary ideas. However, once into the “flamboyance of Italy,” the Uccellini was aggressively jaunty and Castello’s overriding sprightly sense of fun was skillfully foiled by Gay’s expressive solo line.
After the break, McKenna’s guitar proved to be the perfect conversationalist with Goldensher’s violin, which even included a spot-on “wail” to complement her technical prowess.
By the time the Corelli had been reached, the initial uncertainty of the first half had vanished: the performers dug deep and provided the finest playing of the program. The all-too-brief movements were rendered with energy and direction that pushed out of memory some of the rough-and-ready moments of their earlier counterparts.
Next, in Matteis’ Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo, it was most instructive to hear Kajioka’s solo work. She shifted location to that of her colleague and immediately doubled the projection of her previous offerings, which had been performed opposite. That “stereo” dual placement was likely adopted to favour the many contrapuntal episodes, but by misaligning the sound production space of the only like instruments in the concert, a further imbalance was inadvertently created by the practitioners. JWR