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The Triangle Early Music Presenting Organization (TEMPO), which sponsors concerts of early music from the Medieval period through the early Classical period, made its debut at Durham’s First Presbyterian Church with its presentation of Ensemble Caprice, one of the best early music groups the enthusiastic audience could ever have had the pleasure of hearing. Ensemble Caprice is a trio of performers — Matthias Maute, recorder and transverse flute; Susie Napper, viola da gamba; and Dongsok Shin, harpsichord — who are consummate musicians, and performed this program of early instrumental compositions superbly.
The program epitomized instrumental music of the early Baroque period in subject matter, genres and compositional styles. The pieces on the first half of the program were quite loosely constructed, and shared with music of the period a very colorful, florid style characterized by heavily embellished melodic lines and cadences. The second half of the program focused on compositions having much tighter structures and more organization. All of these works have one great similarity: their style demands from instrumentalists a high degree of virtuosity to guarantee a creditable performance.
The three instrumentalists on the program had ample opportunity to display their virtuosity. Matthias Maute, who played recorder on most of the pieces, seemed tireless in his execution of long, rapidly moving, florid lines and appeared never to breathe. Susie Napper’s skillful playing of the viola da gamba showcased its pleasing resonance, which seems deeper than that of a cello. The instrument displayed a beautiful, rich tone quality, and the ability to dance in allegro passages with as much grace as the lighter recorder. Dongsok Shin is a master of the harpsichord, deftly articulating each note of the rapidly moving, highly ornamented lines and also realizing fully the expressive quality of the instrument in the more relaxed lines and cadences of adagio movements.
The first music on the program was a four-movement work by Daniel Ortiz which embodied the frequent dance-like melodies, the high level of musical fantasy, the inventive ornamentation, and the popular theme-and-variations structure favored by many Baroque composers. Maute and Shin from the outset demonstrated an exciting level of technical brilliance and musicianship that whetted the audience’s appetite for more. The two works by the German composer Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) illustrate the treatment of a favorite subject, and the prevalence of the dance suite among Baroque composers. Froberger’s first piece, Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher, is one of many Baroque works evoking a musical picture of the final resting place of a favorite nobleman, patron, leader or friend. The second piece, an allemande, is a slow dance movement from the group of dances comprising the Suite in C Major. It begins with a beautifully somber lament, with Shin as soloist, on the death of Ferdinand IV. Following the lament, all the players offer a piece reflecting the composer’s taste for fantasy, as he introduces within this music a frequently-repeated ascending C major scale, supposedly outlining Ferdinand’s ascent into heaven.
Two of the most original pieces on this program are the Sonata La Vinciolina and the Sonata La Bernabea by seventeenth-century composer Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli. These sonatas are loosely constructed, include several movements and tempos, and have many technically difficult passages which demand all the technical skills the players have. The Sonata La Vinciolina also has an intriguing similarity to early opera. In the first movement, Maute’s recorder takes the part of a soloist singing a recitative or an arioso, accompanied with grace by Shin and Napper. The next section has many aria-like qualities, with the harpsichord providing the highly embellished accompaniment.
The second part of the program focused on music which, because of its clearly defined formal structure, seemed more familiar to listeners. Matthias Maute played the transverse flute in the opening piece, the Sonata Op. I/4 in D by Johann Joachim Quantz, a composer who gave this instrument the beginnings of a repertoire of its own. Maute’s reputation as an internationally known flautist is obviously richly deserved, as he showed in all three movements of this sonata. His astounding virtuosity allows him to play seemingly unbroken melodic lines in moto perpetuo.
Marin Marais’ Tombeau pour M. De Ste Colombe is yet another of the works in which the composer contemplates the resting-place of a well-known personage. It allowed Napper and Shin to play long-tone beautiful adagio lines which sing a very melancholy melody, and to display their superb musicianship. The concluding work, Vivaldi’s Sonata Op. XIII, No.4, was arguably the trio’s most satisfying playing of the evening, with its beautiful line in the first movement rudely interrupted by an annoying descending line that provides a bit of humor for players and audience. The remainder of this work required the artists to play as energetically as they did at the beginning of the concert, and they did not disappoint.
The encore piece, a chaconne written by Maute for recorder, was a beautiful way to end the evening’s music and a statement, if any were needed, of Maute’s outstanding ability as a performing artist.