by Rebecca Rollett
Another Sunday afternoon, another Steelers game left to record itself whilst I headed out to participate in the local music scene, this time as an auditor. My sole option for attending Chatham Baroque’s December concerts for their program Fête Parisienne was Sunday 12/21, so that’s the way it goes. Fortunately the Steelers once again managed to take care of business without me.
To make matters worse, my husband, who is always trying to get me to do things for my own good, suggested we walk there. It was cold outside. For that matter, it was cold inside the chapel at Chatham University. But the atmosphere was warm and inviting, and the music-making made up for everything.
And in case you’re wondering why I tend to begin my reviews with whining about the difficulties attendant upon making it to the concert, I have a larger purpose. In over 40 years of voluntary concert attending, I have regretted making the effort a handful of times at most. And make no mistake, it is always an effort. When you have young children you have to find a sitter, or else go alone. When the kids are older you are crazy busy with a million things. When fall/winter concerts are on Sunday afternoons you usually have to miss the Steelers game.
My husband is one of the busiest people I know. And I can’t tell you how many times he has suddenly grabbed his pen and started scribbling frantically on his program, because suddenly the solution to something he had been beating his head against the computer trying to work out (metaphorically speaking) has come to him in a beautiful moment of clarity as he listens to the music. We all have a million excuses not to go, but there are so many benefits to attending live performances. One of those benefits is to help ensure live performances continue.
I’ve been talked down off my soapbox now, and here’s what I experienced. The program was bookended by two of the 12 so-called Paris quartets of Georg Philip Telemann, the first from the 1730 publication of Nos. 1-6, the second from the 1738 set (Nos. 7 – 12.) As guest artist Stephen Schultz informed the audience, playing these quartets, (unusually scored for flute, violin, gamba, and continuo) is on the bucket list of every Baroque flautist. He noted it is a difficult feat because the pieces are so virtuosic, and it can be hard to find sufficiently capable musicians to perform with. Luckily for Pittsburghers, there’s no problem here. As you would expect, the musicians of Chatham Baroque did them proud. Both were interesting pieces, very much not of the sort of “Baroque for the Bath” variety of chamber music we tend to accuse Telemann’s music of being.
The performances from the technical standpoint were essentially flawless. Here are
some other things which struck me as I listened:
Violinist Andrew Fouts has to be one of the most sensitive musicians I’ve ever heard. Even with a baroque violin, it isn’t difficult to cover up a baroque flute, and Fouts brought his lines forward or back seamlessly as his line or the flute line was the dominant one.
The interplay between Schultz and Fouts as they ornamented was a joy to see and hear. When they had parallel ornaments, they were almost always precisely matched. Their mini-cadenza at the end of the Prelude to the Premiere Suite was playful, as if they were tossing a ball back and forth.
Gambist Patricia Halverson had some fireworks of her own. So often the gamba is in the background, but Telemann gave her some great material, and she made the most of it.
It was a delight to hear these two quartets, and not only because one so seldom has the
opportunity. The first quartet was followed by what the program notes informed us was Georg Muffat’s only surviving work for solo violin (in the sense of solo with continuo accompaniment.) It was a great surprise to my husband and I, both of whom are familiar with Muffat only through a series of rather turgid and uninteresting organ works. (Or perhaps we are just turgid and uninteresting organists : )
Before they played the Muffat, though, harpsichordist Adam Pearl played a Couperin Allemande, which was lovely. Pearl was solid throughout the concert in a mostly subsidiary role, so it was nice to get to hear him alone. The Adagio which began the Muffat and was recapped at the end was so beautiful that I was, in the immortal words of Linda Richman, verklempt. It made me think that if I could only take one local musician with me to a desert island, my eventual choice might well be Andrew Fouts. I would gladly listen to him for the rest of my life. Hopefully I could also take one local metallurgist, and Tony, you would definitely win that contest : )
The second half began with the Premiere Concert of François Couperin. It is the first of the four Concerts Royaux, and Couperin wrote them to be performable by a number of possible combinations of instruments, or even solo harpsichord. The ensemble made the most of this, using a great many of the possible combinations, including just gamba and lute, just flute and harpsichord, and even having the flute and violin occasionally play in unison.
This is a treacherous thing when there are only two of you, and there are two different types of instruments, but Fouts and Schultz played with immaculate intonation and precisely matched ornaments, for a really lovely effect. Once again one of the unsung members of the ensemble was featured, as Scott Pauley played two movements of Robert de Visée’s Suite in a for solo lute. The first of the two movements is an unmeasured prelude. I couldn’t find a score of the Visée piece, but generally this means something which looks like the Couperin prelude at left. The composer gives the performer complete liberty to choose the note lengths as s/he chooses. Pauley followed this with a dance movement, La Mascarade. It was a treat to hear the lute on its own.
The program ended with the D major Telemann quartet, but as an encore they played a chaconne movement from the final of the Paris quartets, which made a lovely and fitting ending to a wonderful afternoon of music-making.
Rebecca Rollett is the Artistic Director of The Pittsburgh Camerata