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Founded in 2008, the Baroque and Beyond series, initiated at the invitation of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, features concerts played on Baroque period styled instruments in historical venues around the town. The "Goddess in the Grove" program was presented at the home of soprano Florence Peacock, who sang a featured work inspired by the story of Actéon the hunter stumbling upon goddess Diana and her maids bathing in a shaded grove. Diana was so ashamed and angered by Actéon that she turned him into a stag and left him to his band of huntsmen. This work, the "Actéon" Cantata by Joseph Boudin de Boismortier, is an exceptional representation of the French Baroque style, which this concert in particular highlighted. Florence Peacock was fabulous, obviously singing with a passion artfully depicting the charming story.
Because of the cooperation of the Preservation Society, this concert felt more historically accurate than is typical; a concert back in the 18th century would have usually taken place in a wealthy music-lover's parlor. The room where this particular concert was hosted was very spacious, allowing for the sound to carry throughout the room, so no seat was a "cheap seat" (literally and figuratively); unless, that is, one wanted to actually see the performers. Since everyone was seated in tight rows in order to fit in the entire audience – even so, there was standing room only by the time the entire audience arrived – it was difficult to see through the rows to the seated performers. However, the music was so engaging that it almost took on a visible life of its own.
The first piece performed, Jacques de Saint-Luc's Suite in D Major for oboe and basso continuo, was a great introduction to the style. Oboist Alicia Chapman demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the style with her interpretation of the piece – in Baroque pieces, the articulations, phrasing, and ornamentation were generally not notated and were left up to the performer. Chapman's passion for the Baroque shone through in her brilliant playing, most notably in the Caprice en Passacaille movement, which showcased her technical ability. Despite having to fight a little bit with the temperamental, old-style instrument, her tone and chromatic runs were expertly carried out.
The French Baroque style is less recognized than other countries' forms of the same era of music. Although it does resemble the style of Baroque that Germany produced – this is what you hear when you listen to Johann Sebastian Bach or any of his sons – the French Baroque is far more expressive, focusing to a greater extent on evoking emotions, pictures, or dances from the music, rather than adhering to a strict set of rules.
Chapman was joined by viola da gamba player Gail Schroeder and harpsichordists Elaine Funaro and Beverly Biggs, who is the Artistic Director of Baroque and Beyond and had much to say in the way of interesting trivia about the Baroque instruments. The full group played the opening Sonade movements of Francois Couperin's "L'Imperiale" from Les Nations. This piece was an evenly-balanced dialogue between the four voices featuring much room for flexibility and well-coordinated liberties.
The crowd favorite was Joseph-Pancrace Royer's "La Marche des Scythes" from his Pièces de Clavecin, originally written for solo harpsichord but this time performed with two – a wonderful decision, for it added the depth and grandeur that this particular tune demands. It is a highly technical, catchy tune that plays with audience expectations through false endings and left everyone feeling invigorated.
These concerts continue on March 4. For details, click here.