The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 19, 2004


Concert Review: A world class concert in Carlisle

Last Thursday night Carlisle heard another fine concert of Baroque music, presented by the Cambridge Society for Early Music (CSEM), as part of its Chamber Music by Candlelight series. Members of the group Philomel Baroque, based in Philadelphia, came to Union Hall to treat the audience to a sparkling set of performances under the title, "Splendid Blend: Music for a London Coffee House."

It is always a great pleasure to have the opportunity to hear fine music only a few minutes from home. Local music lovers are fortunate that three times each year CSEM brings world-class performers of early music right into Carlisle. Last week's offering was typical.

Various combinations of one and/or two Baroque violins, recorder, cello and harpsichord continuo treated us to nine different groups of pieces, some more serious than others. These pieces were by seven composers who, in the 16th and 17th centuries, had lived in England or Scotland. The best known of the group were Handel, Purcell and Thomas Arne. The program would have been typical of "music meetings" or "concerts" of the late 16th to at least the mid-17th century. We heard dance rhythms, lovely melodies and imitation between the instruments, and ornamentation with turns, trills and little runs of great clarity and variety that were inseparable from the character of the pieces themselves.

Two movements from Scottish composer, James Oswald's Airs for the Seasons capitalized on folk tunes. The most audience amusement and laughter came during "The Sneeze-wort" (part of Autumn) played by Nancy Wilson, violin, with Vivian Dozer, cello, and Bruce Bekker, harpsichord. Bekker commented that the piece had two sections: "serious congestion" and "relief is on its way," with both a musical and an actual sneeze. The melody slid and coughed around the strings in the most inventive ways.

Elissa Berardi, a co-founder of Philomel Baroque in 1976, is a masterful virtuosa on both soprano and alto recorders. Her musical contributions enriched the ensemble in the Two Scottish Songs from A Treatise of Good Taste by F. Geminiani, and a concerto by F. Barbella. It was her solo, The Nightingale, by Jacob van Eyck that left the audience spellbound. The composer had used the instrument to create all the possible sounds and textures that portrayed the bird as if it were in the hall. In pieces where she did not play, Berardi sat in a side pew of the sanctuary with what appeared to be a proud and satisfied look. Clearly, no one in the audience could say that music of so many centuries ago was without imagination and diversity, bordering at times on the contemporary.

Another unique aspect of this concert was the clarity with which the audience could hear two very different Baroque violins. Wilson told us that her Rugeri 1730 violin has been restored to its original condition with gut strings. It has a bright, yet dark and full-bodied sound, but with great clarity owing, in part, to the lighter Baroque bow. In performance she used just the right amount of light vibrato. Renowned Brooklyn violinmaker, Sam Zygmuntowicz, made Dozer's violin (also with gut strings) 12 years ago. (Isaac Stern owned one of Zygmuntowicz's violins). The sound is lighter and a distinctly different from Wilson's. Both performers likened their instruments to two different but fine bottles of wine. These reviewers found it pleasing to hear the different qualities of tone in addition to the different musical lines. These qualities added another dimension to the beauty of the music. The cellist provided a rich, expressive bass line continuo as well as melodic lines when the strings all played in parts, as in the Barbella concerto.

The audience had been urged by both James Nicolson, President of CSEM and our host, and by harpsichordist Bekker, who discussed what we would have found had we visited 18th-century London coffee houses, to be much more raucous than befits today's concert decorum. Unfortunately, perhaps the church sanctuary affected our behavior, for there were neither catcalls, whistles nor shouts for encores during this exceptionally fine concert. But, in keeping with accepted etiquette, the applause and appreciation were generous.

The next opportunity to attend a CSEM concert in Carlisle will be on Thursday, April 29, when the LIBER unUSUALIS, Ensemble for Medieval and Renaissance Music, will perform at St. Irene Church.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito