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Portland Baroque offers two distinct styles
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Portland Baroque offers two distinct styles

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Chamber Soloists of Portland Baroque Orchestra
April 17
Town Hall, Early Music Guild


I must confess that I don't fully understand the language of the French Baroque. At the lecture before this concert, theorbo player Richard Savino stated something to the effect that the real subject of the French Baroque was in fact the style, manners, and atmosphere of the music. Perhaps that explains why I nonetheless find this music lacking in "content" or substance that I can sink my teeth into. I seemed to miss the point!

At any rate, I find myself ill equipped to comment on the first half of this concert, which consisted entirely of music by François Couperin. In both the "Sonade" and the "Suite," the members of the Portland Baroque could not be faulted. Their skills, articulation, togetherness, energy ... everything sounded alive and enthusiastic. They clearly knew what they were doing, even if I didn't. My mind kept wandering to those exciting plants I bought that afternoon for our garden.

Nothing could have made this difficulty of mine more apparent than the contrast between the Couperin and the second half of the concert: music of Vivaldi, Telemann, and J. C. Bach. From the first notes of Vivaldi's "Concerto in G minor, RV 107," I was in music heaven. Gorgeous, song-like melodies, supported by warm, interesting harmonies, were tossed back and forth among the instruments with charm and abundant wit. This trio sonata (two upper lines and an equal bass line) made me feel at home and showed me even more clearly what wonderful musicians were sharing their joy with us.

The Chamber soloists of the Portland Baroque Orchestra were Janet See (transverse flute), Gonzalo X. Ruiz (baroque oboe), Carla Moore and Rob Diggins (violins), Joanna Blendulf (viola da gamba and violoncello), Richard Savino (theorbo), and guest director and harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini.

Like counselor Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation (although she was talking about chocolate!), I've never met a Telemann piece I didn't like! The "No. 6 in E minor" from "Nouveaux quatours en six suites" did nothing to change that assessment. Unlike the Vivaldi, which was for flute, oboe, bassoon (here taken by the violoncello), violin, and basso continuo, the Telemann employed transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. Played on "original" instruments or their replicas, this suite of six movements (some were left out) could not have been more delightful. I realized I hadn't once thought about variegated honeysuckle or exotic New Zealand coprosma!

Even more compelling was the magnificent "Quintet in D major, Op. 22" by Johann Christian Bach, youngest son of J. S. Bach. No more basso continuo here! Instead we got equal play for all five instruments (flute, oboe, violin, violoncello, and obbligato harpsichord). And what a harpsichord! A two-manual instrument (owned by Prof. John Edwards and reconditioned by David Calhoun), this harpsichord sang its parts with such welcome sonic contrast to the other players that one wished we had heard it in solo play in more parts of the program. A crystalline clarity of sound tickled my brain (like a pipe cleaner run in one ear and out the other!) and made exquisite comment and elaboration on the themes of the other instruments. Plumbing this harpsichord's riches, guest director Rinaldo Alessandrini no doubt had much to do with this special delight.

The last movement of the "Quintet" was particularly exciting and brought this concert to a rousing close. (I had to leave to catch a ferry - the boat kind - and don't know if there were encores.)

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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