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The second concert of the Magnolia Baroque Festival, heard in Salem College's Hanes Auditorium on June 21, was exciting and satisfying from several points of view. With the somnolence of the Triangle's Ensemble Courant, opportunities to hear large period instrument orchestras have become very rare. This festival's programmers have continued to explore the important music copying and composing activities of Moravian Johann Friedrich Peter (1746-1813). Connectivity as a theme continued at the post-concert reception, which culminated in a visit to the vault of the Moravian Archives.
Some 22 musicians playing period instruments or copies formed a conductor-less orchestra for this imaginative menu of works. The woodwinds and brass left the stage for some works. Brent Wissick, who led the two cellos, told me that they prepared this concert like a large quartet. I saw concertmistress Gesa Kordes subtly give cues only during the concluding Mozart concerto. Ensemble within and among the sections was astonishingly high, especially considering the short and intense period of rehearsals.
While still in Europe, Peter learned his craft by hand-copying scores he later brought with him to America. These included one by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-95), the third-youngest son of J.S. Bach, who spent his entire career at the court of Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe in Bückeburg, Germany. His pleasant and sunny Symphony in E, HW I/4, reflects his patron's taste for the Italian style. The score for this performance was edited by Evald V. Nolte from J. F. Peter's hand-copied score housed in the Moravian Archives.
The festival program listed the "American premiere on original instrument" of Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in E-flat. It is well known from piston-trumpet performances, but Barry Bauguess used a keyed trumpet for this concert. Anton Weidinger, a trumpeter in the Vienna Court orchestra, developed a system of "well-placed holes, opened and closed by padded keys," allowing the playing of the complete chromatic scale throughout the trumpet's range. Haydn exploited this in all three movements. According to Michael Dodds' program notes, "almost every other note of the principal theme would have been impossible to play on a natural trumpet in E-flat." Most second movements in Baroque concertos allowed the solo instrument to rest but Haydn makes the most of the lyrical and chromatic possibilities. Bauguess' playing revealed subtle variety in tone color as compared to modern trumpets.
Soprano Ah Hong gave eloquent and firm-voiced performances of four anthems composed by J. F. Peter. They are simple "settings of single verses from the Bible for solo voice, four-part strings, and continuo." The third drew some fine high notes from Ah Hong while the fourth had a more complicated accompaniment.
It is rare enough to hear a Mozart piano concerto played on a modern instrument in this state, so it was a treat it was to hear UNCG fortepianist Andrew Willis play the composer's miraculous Concerto No. 21 in C, K.467. He used a restrained and delicate-sounding reproduction of a fortepiano of the period; the lovely instrument looked like it may have been modeled after those of Johann Andreas Stein. The festival orchestra held its dynamics in check so as not to cover Willis' gentle but clear notes. The fortepiano's loudest notes were more rumblings than thundering. Willis' playing was masterful – it was simple, straightforward, and eloquent without a trace of Romantic affectation. He later told me that this was the first time he had played the piece without a conductor. The festival ought to consider working its way through Mozart's mature concertos.
The post-concert reception was well worth attending. While it was a pleasure to talk with many of the players, it was the visit to the vault that was most moving. Among the treasures shown by the enthusiastic archivist was a well-worn hand-copied score of Haydn's Creation. J. F. Peter had given the American premiere in 1811, made this second copy for the Salem Moravians about the same time, and subsequently led another performance in Salem about 1811-12. The archivist tantalizingly alluded to a viola concerto by another Moravian composer that would be worthy of a future festival performance. Music lovers familiar with Antal Dorati's recordings of all the Haydn symphonies may recall that the score for No. 17 came from this same Moravian Archive. This cultural heritage, initiated by the conductor Thor Johnson, is a rich field for future festival performances.