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UNC Greensboro Baroque Ensembles

by Tom Moore

December 8, 2008, Greensboro, NC: Rarely does your devoted critic leaves the confines of the Triangle in carrying out his duties, but the strengths of the programs in music at UNC Greensboro deserve to be known state-wide. A Triangle traffic jam, alas, meant that I missed the first item on a varied program highlighting the activities in performance on period instruments coordinated by violinist Gesa Kordes at the UNCG School of Music. The concert took place in the Organ Hall, a unique space – a sort of dodecahedral rotunda several stories in height, with a concert organ (baroque style) occupying one wall, and seating for about 80. Performers were a mix of undergraduate and graduate students at UNCG.

Baroque oboe is a beast notoriously difficult to tame, even for skilled performers on the modern instrument, so it was impressive to hear the mastery of technique and style evidenced in the dance movements from the Chedeville Sonata, Op. 8, No. 3, performed by oboists Thomas Turanchik and Matthew Covington. This duo was followed by an early baroque sonata for sackbut (the narrower-bore version of the modern trombone) and continuo, with details not completely in place. A Telemann trio sonata for recorders and continuo likewise did not go beyond a student level. Closing the first half was the Trio Sonata, Op. 3, No. 3 by Antoine Dornel, with oboist Turanchik joined by Allison Willet, violin, Brian Carter, cello, and Travis Hodgdon, harpsichord. The rhythmic nuances and swing of Baroque dance were capably presented by the ensemble, particularly in the closing chaconne gracieuse.

There is something about period instruments that often evokes a feeling that we are “not in Kansas anymore,” that we have left everyday reality for one which is related but subtly different. This was particularly the case for the duo by Otto Nicolai for hand-stopped natural horns. The modern hornist, unlike most of his/her colleagues, maintains a tradition of playing the earlier form of the instrument, as well as the modern valved horn, but even so it is rare to hear chamber music for natural horn. The various timbres and colors produced by the stopping technique (varying positions of the hand in the bell) mean that a chromatic passage sounds entirely different on the natural horn. Kudos to Kathryn Bridwell-Briner and Daniel Taber for a reading combining sound technique and musicianship.

Flutists Laura Stevens and David Covert were stylish in their Telemann Trio Sonata, but still need to become more comfortable with the demands the Baroque flute makes in terms of sound and intonation, with constant inflection of the embouchure required. Casey Ogle and Andrew Bonner (violins) turned in brilliant performances of four Airs by John Jenkins with continuo, tossing phrases back and forth with pizzazz. Closing the concert was the Rondeau from the Mozart Trio K. 498 for clarinet, viola and fortepiano. Here again the different timbre of the classical clarinet, and the sound of the fortepiano, notably quiet-voiced in comparison with its partners (unlike the steel-framed behemoth with gargantuan tone that drowns out all comers) made one realize how much nuance is lost in using modern instruments for this early repertoire. The performers (Jesse Welborn, clarinet, Emily Yun Wang, viola, and Raul Manjarrez, fortepiano) were capable, particularly the fleet and expressive work of Manjarrez at the piano. 

Director Gesa Kordes did not play, but her influence in this varied program was certainly present in the stylish interpretations offered. The UNCG School of Music should take pride in the accomplishments of its students and faculty in this area. It would be a pity if the present economic climate should lead to retrenchment at our state universities, which have been leading the way in developing classical music in North Carolina.

   
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