To many people, the thought of baroque music instruments evokes visions of fusty old parlors with great hoop skirts, pinched waists, and powdered wigs. Had these people joined the audience for the latest edition of the Smedes Parlor Concert Series of Saint Mary's School, they would have been in for an education. There Rebecca Troxler, baroque flute, Geoffrey Burgess, baroque oboe, Stephanie Vial, baroque cello, and Elaine Funaro, harpsichord, trekked through some six centuries worth of musical offerings. Known as the Aliénor Ensemble, these superb artists brilliantly demonstrated the versatility of that class of instruments with the program entitled "Airs and Dances Through the Centuries."
(Aliénor, a word derived from the French names of Eleanor of Aquitaine, is an active organization in Durham that promotes new music for the harpsichord through concerts, commissions, and competitions. Funaro serves as Executive Director.)
The quartet opened the program in normally expected fashion with the four-movement Sonate en trio (1712) by the French flutist and flute-maker Jacques Hottetterre. The only piece to predate this one was "Le forze d'hercole" (1531) by Pierre Attaingnant, offered in a harpsichord medley after intermission.
It was then back to the present with "Springtime Airs" for flute and harpsichord by Edwin McLean, a Chapel Hill resident. Originally scored for modern flute and guitar, the piece showed how worthily the harpsichord could mimic and outdo the guitar. Jazz enthusiast and Mt. Holyoke College professor David Sanford's "Humilitatem" for Duo d'amore (oboe and harpsichord), received its world premiere.
Robert Greenlee's Sonata Rondo for the quartet was an Aliénor 2004 competition winner. With "Rondo Barroco," it was back to Bach, but with a decidedly syncopated twist. "Rondeau Bleu" and "Rondo Tango" cried the blues and furnished the Latin flavoring, with the flute and oboe doing most of the heavy lifting.
The "Medley of Airs and Dances for Harpsichord" truly covered the time spectrum. It ranged from the aforementioned Attaingnant through the familiar Purcell, Rameau, Bach, and Scarlatti, from there to Francois Thomé (1892) and Timothy Tikker (Aliénor 2000 finalist), and ultimately to Don Angle's "Row, row, row your boat" (2005). Ending the evening was a major work by Winston-Salem's Dan Locklair, "Arias & Dances," from an Aliénor 2008 commission. This four-movement piece was entirely pleasing and tuneful, the movements ranging in mood from "Stomp" to "Hymn." It showed players and instruments at their finest.
With this imaginative presentation, Saint Mary's School has scored another educational and artistic victory.