Playing together since 1985, Ensemble Chaconne members are flutist Peter H. Bloom, Carol Lewis on viola da gamba, Olav Chris Henriksen on lute and English guitar. (Their bios may be read here.) Their long association can only have strengthened their individual brilliant music making. This concert was definitely one of the brightest stars in an already bright constellation of performances at the Music House.
The program, "European Masters in 18th Century London," was a bouquet of delightful music; most of the composers were not Londoners or even English, but their presence, either in person or through printed music, enriched the London musical scene.
The opening piece was Handel's Flute Sonata in A minor, HWV 374 – the first of the so-called Hallenser sonatas, because it possibly dates as early as Handel's youth in Halle. Bloom was fiery and precise in performance. Lewis was a powerhouse, driving the music unerringly with her underlying bass line, and Henricksen's 13-course Baroque lute was, in the intimacy of the Music House, an expressive part of the continuo package.
Vivaldi's Concerto in D minor (per liuto) is generally famous to lovers of Baroque music and lovers of public radio alike; it is often heard. In this performance, Bloom took the second violin line and Henriksen the first violin and lute parts combined. Lewis' bass line was the sweetest, purest viol playing I have ever heard. Her instrument, by Guy Derat, is a wonderful instrument; her talent in extracting the music from it was equally wonderful.
Gottfried Finger was a Moravian composer and viol virtuoso who lived in London for a while. His Sonata Seconda in D features lute and viol; Bloom got a little break. The lute part was executed with fire and exuberance. The bass line is equally brilliant, with lots of divisions that sent the high lines right off the frets and onto the plain fingerboard of the viol, along with demanding and brilliant double stopping.
John Stanley was five years old when Handel arrived in London, but Stanley was an incredible prodigy and was soon holding his own among the greatest musicians in London. His Sonata in E minor, Op.4, No. 2 gave Bloom plenty of rollicking melodies and a minuet which he took at a delightfully fast pace.
Following the intermission and wine tasting typical of the Music House, the players returned with four short pieces including English guitar (or cittern) instead of lute. The English guitar is very different from the instruments so well known today as guitars, related instruments descended from the Spanish guitar. (As an aside, this writer very much recommends that if the reader needs a rabbit hole to get lost in, do a little research on "guitar.")
The melody of "When Sable Night," by the English tenor Thomas Linley the elder was played by Bloom. Ignatius Sancho's "Sweetest Bard" has a country dance feeling, very similar to the well-known Lillibullero. A Presto by Anne Ford made a very interesting solo for Henriksen's original (not reproduction) guitar, with its machine head using a watch key (tied to the head by a red string) to tune it. Contrasting in its depth and complexity was "Che ciaseun per te sospiri" by J. C. Bach (the "London Bach").
Henriksen played Rudolf Straube's Fantasie for English Guitar in C and the Allegro and Trio from Felice De Giardini's Trio V in C. Both these pieces were in the home key of the guitar and exploited the tuning very effectively. Straube's Fantasie in particular was brilliant but never forced.
Lewis played two solos by Carl Friedrich Abel, an Arpeggio and a Fuga, both from a manuscript that survived in the estate of the painter Thomas Gainsborough, who was, in addition to being a skilled painter, a recognized virtuoso on the viola da gamba.
For a finale, Bloom and Henriksen on lute, with Lewis did a bang-up job of Johann Christian Fischer's Sonata IX in D minor. Following a well-deserved standing ovation, they returned with an encore, the Vivace from Abel's Sonata I, with its interesting chromaticism.
Ensemble Chaconne, both in its individuals and together, is a powerhouse of great playing.