The visual splendor of the Music House was matched by the deft playing of Leslie Conner and Leah Peroutka, violins, Christopher Nunnally, cello, and John O'Brien, harpsichord, in a juicy selection of trio sonatas by Tarquinio Merula, Jean-Marie Leclair, Francesco Maria Veracini, George Friderick Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.
The opening piece, a one-movement Ciaconna by Merula, is not strictly a trio sonata. The precise clean playing of Connor and Peroutka by themselves in the beginning demonstrated the remarkably different timbres of the two violins. Nunnally's cello line is, it's true, a basso continuo, but his talents tamed the big dog cello into the brightest and most spritely of really big violins. If he had tucked it under his chin, the image would have been complete. O'Brien chose a single register on the harpsichord, providing exactly the right balance, not very loud, but indispensable.
The Leclair trio sonata began with an Andante molto cantabile with lots of lush suspensions, well tuned. The Allegro was only one of numerous places in which the players were carefully watching each other, carefully playing with and not against each other. Peroutka has a stolid expression worthy of a fiddler in a mountain band, but she was carefully watching. Nunnally is the opposite, with a very animated expression as he plays. The dialog of the Andante pastorale was heightened by the strong expression which the players brought to it, making it half argument, half make-up romance between the parts. The Andante was definitely "going somewhere," displaying a strong sense of rhythmic destination.
Of the six movements of the Veracini sonata, played by Conner, the Overatura was distinguished by nice pairings of tempos as the composition alternated Largo/Allegro/Adagio/Allegro. In the third movement, Aria: Affetuoso, Conner exploited the cat-like whinings of her part very effectively. Nunnally is consistently an energetic cellist; this was particularly true in the Paesana: Allegro. In the rapid Giga, Conner was very precise; Nunnally was razor-sharp with his really big violin.
At intermission, CVNC Assignments Editor and Senior Contributor John Lambert and Executive Director Carolyn Kohring made a presentation to the audience about the good works of CVNC, but you already know about that.
I've had a fondness for Handel since my teen years, when his work came on those black vinyl discs called LPs. The Andante of his Trio Sonata in A Major, Opus 5, No. 1, has the theme in common with one of his recorder sonatas. Handel had a tremendous ability to re-work a tune, frequently extracted from someone else, make it his own, and make two or three totally different and equally successful compositions. This is a handy skill to have; Handel's fertile mind is just as skillful in cooking up a fresh tune as well. Handel seems so superficial, but the very pieces one thought superficial remain valid for ever. Handel never tires and is always jolly; the players in this concert were the same. The Allegro approaches the complex turbidity of J. S. Bach. In the final Gavotte: Allegro, Handel replaces the German tallow with Italian olive oil to make the simplest music, music that is brilliant in its simplicity and brilliant in performance in this concert.
Vivaldi's Trio Sonata "La Folia" was a masterpiece of careful watching and playing together. And close watching paid off both for superior music making and the chance to see the stoic Peroutka smile a lovely little smile in "La Folia." It was all good and Nunnally executed a brilliant solo. 'La Folia" builds to a climax that should have as a tempo marking, “Sit down, shut up, and hang on!” That was exactly how it was executed! Wow!
This baroque and classical festival continues through July 27. For details, click here and here and here. CVNC representatives will be on hand again at the grand finale to continue the conversation begun on July 24.