Barbara Blaker Krumdieck of Davidson and Beverly Biggs of Chapel Hill put their skills together in a warming concert evoking a summer day in the Mediterranean, a delightful attack on the January-February blues. Biggs brought to the concert her French double, one of many harpsichords in her possession. Today's instrument was modeled after instruments of Pascal Taskin (1723-1793) by David Dutton, whose skill as an oboist is indisputable. Krumdieck was playing her modern Italian cello, embellished on the back not with the blood of martyrs but genuine Italian-man sweat, a sonorous instrument that, like Krumdieck, is capable of being both strong and delicate, as the music requires. Both performers were dressed to suggest a Mediterranean summer; Biggs in vibrate orange and electric blue and Krumdieck in a sleeveless ankle-length slinky drapery of all the hot pinks and blues and greens of a Mediterranean parrot, a veritable kethoneth passim. Can't you just imagine hot greens? Or hot blues? Krumdieck's historically set up cello has no end pin. In the wonderful informality of the O'Brien salon, she was able to mention that the dress was rather slippery; that she was counting on those in the front row to catch it if it slipped away from her. After a bit of a struggle with it in the first movement, she pulled her dress up enough to hold the lower bouts of the instrument between her bare legs.
The music began (the show had already begun, with the flamboyant dresses) with three Recercadas for viola da gamba and harpsichord: Ottava, Primera, Segunda, by Diego Ortiz, a Spaniard who flourished (as they say) in the middle of the sixteenth century. My minor quibble that this should be played on a gamba was completely overridden by the first notes from Krumdieck's cello, complex and delicate, the bass strings grunting like a charming pigpen of musical swine, the unmistakable sonority from gut strings under gentle tension. The Segunda was perfectly snappy. Krumdieck's ability to play at speed is amazing -- and never seems rushed or desperate.
Biggs offered two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). Her interpretation on two keyboards, frequently with one hand on one keyboard and the other hand on the other, was certainly interesting, nay puzzling. Dividing hands this way suggests twentieth-century organ technique, not historically-informed performance. It is definitely contrary to both the concept of terrace dynamics (modern terminology) and the concept of piano e forte of Cristofori, the inventor. At least one of his instruments belonged to Maria Barbara, infanta of Portugal and later queen of Spain. Scarlatti was her personal music teacher until his death in 1757; it is most likely that his works were conceived for and executed on lightly-built Italian-style harpsichords and Cristofori pianos, not the relatively ponderous French double. While the breakneck tempo Biggs used on the delicate and plaintive sonata K. 9 is just possible with a cleaner and surer keyboard skill, a slower tempo would have been kinder to the music and possibly allowed more correct notes.
Domenico Gabrielli was a cello virtuoso, much like Krumdieck. Krumdieck joined Biggs to play his Sonata for Cello and Harpsichord. The cello playing was precisely in tune with the harpsichord, and, more, importantly, with itself in the remarkable double-stopped passages. Krumdieck plays with verve and beautiful stylistic flourishes.
Salvatore Lanzetti was born in Turin in 1710 and worked in Lucca and Modena. He was a cello virtuoso with an eye to the profits; the cello was socially lower than the flute, so his published compositions suggested that they were suitable for either instrument. Krumdieck and Biggs brought on the impresario himself, John O'Brien, so that they could play Lanzetti's Sonata No. 1 in D Major using both instruments. Having taken notice of the women's dresses, O'Brien is entitled to recognition of his cheery braces embellished with Christmas trees. They served in an exemplary role holding up his trousers and were the inspiration for some interesting badinage among the players! O'Brien played his one-key traverso built by Rod Cameron. This particular Cameron flute has a fine tone. O'Brien and Krumdieck matched each other note for note like a pair of high-spirited horses used to working in double harness!
Following the usual wine buffet at intermission (O'Brien was happy to point out that in honor of the Mediterranean theme all the wines were Italian), Biggs played the Antonio Soler's sonatas M. 23 and 24. Soler, who may have studied with Scarlatti, carried Scarlatti's pairs of sonatas into the classical era; many of them feature violent dynamic changes and notorious disjunct crossed-hands links. Biggs got most of these dead on!
The program concluded with Antonio Vivaldi's Sonata No. 9 in G minor for cello and harpsichord. Biggs and Krumdieck presented this music with a perfect communion of spirit. There could not have been a nicer finish to this Mediterranean-themed evening.