How did music actually sound in the baroque period? Historical accounts can be read, performance treatises perused and surviving scores peered over, hoping that the answers will be found. But we’ll never know for sure. All the more fun for performers, instrument makers, musicologists and even critics to come to their own conclusions then present those as the truth.
In this most welcome collection of six instrumental solo works, Musica Pacifica has re-arranged, re-scored and re-worked various components, but no worries on that score—most certainly the performers/composers (often in simultaneous roles) of the day did likewise. (Like authentic jazz, no two performances were alike.) Now, centuries later, the validity of present-day choices will only out itself in the ear and the soul of the beholders, making every reaction as personal and individual to the listener as the re-creators. What fun! Nobody’s right or wrong.
From the generous portion of nineteen tracks, these ears found the Tartini “Adagio” to be head-and-shoulders above the rest. The unwelcome, brutal attacks of the preceding opening “Allegro” were immediately forgotten as the organ (ever so subtly rendered by Charles Sherman, his harpsichord much more present and occasionally over-flourished) provided much-needed relief and sturdy support. Elizabeth Blumenstock’s violin returned the favour in spades with bar after bar of beautifully shaped and expressed solo lines and a magnificent change of register that would be equally savoured in any generation. Her cadenza was free, sincere and largely spontaneous—a feature that remained strangely absent from her colleagues’ more academic improvisations when it came their turn to just let go. Perhaps this is the bane of trying to reconstruct what we’ll never be precisely sure of what was wanted, instead of allowing hearts, hands and technique to take unmapped flight, rendering “old” music with the freedom of twenty-first century thinking.
Other highlights came in the Sammartini (the “Allegro” perfectly light and airy, the transitions secure and a wonderful shower of liquid arpeggios from Judith Linsenberg—this time on soprano recorder) and the midpoint of the middle movement from Vivaldi’s B-flat Major Concerto (after the unusually long introduction settled down—not the Red Prince’s best effort in the oeuvre) where bassoonist Michael McGraw traversed all registers with ease, nearly morphed into swing (Why not?) and provided first-class legato. Not as successful was his overly forceful Alberti accompaniment of the Sonata in A Minor’s “Largo” (the recording team might also shoulder some of this comment).
As usual (cross-reference below), Daniel Swenberg was the soul of discretion and support—especially when joining Team Continuo with his theorbo; also of note was violist Peter Bucknell (once again, the Tartini “Adagio”) whose delicate touch was ideal.
As well-presented and carefully prepared as these live performances were (Ayrshire Ball Room, January 3-8, 2006), one can only hope for a collective looseness—even at the risk of ensemble—to find its unplanned way into the music, happily surprising all parties at the next offering, just as Vivaldi and his colleagues may well have done every night. JWR