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Repertory sifted from the treasures of the Moravian Archives has been one of the most exciting aspects of the biennial Magnolia Baroque Festival. It was good to see the Carolina Summer Music Festival following suit for this concert program held in Gray Auditorium in the Old Salem Visitors Center. Earlier concerts had featured sure crowd pleasers, all Gershwin selections, and were sellouts. This menu of little-known 18th century composers brought in only an 80% full house. Every generation has a few great composers whose works join the repertory, but the majority pen well-crafted pieces written in the period's prevailing generic style. For every Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven, there is a legion of Bendas, Hummels, or Spohrs. While their creations may not be diamonds, there are many fine lesser stones among the dross. Pleasing "lesser" works help us to better appreciate the great ones.
"Music in Revolutionary Salem" was the focus of this concert and Philip Dunigan, currently research consultant for the Moravian Music Foundation, gave succinct pre-concert remarks that revealed the deep fiscal and moral trials the Moravians of Salem faced during the war. Hasty NC legislation required loyalty oaths, compulsory military service, and confiscation of property, all of which threatened the pacifist believers who needed to be able to go on missions internationally, including the British Empire. Prolonged negotiations with the legislature allowed use of affirmations and avoidance of the draft in exchange for not sheltering British and for paying a triple state tax. The Moravian Archives are a time capsule of famous and neglected composers of 1740-1820. Elizabeth Ransom introduced each composition on the program with pithy resumes.
German composer Johann Baptist Wendling (1723-1797) was principal flute of the famous Mannheim Orchestra and was a friend of both Mozart and J.C. Bach. His Sonata No. 3 in F, Op. 5 (1772) for flute, violin, and cello is an attractive, graceful work in three movements with lovely themes. Elizabeth Ransom, Jacqui Carrasco, and Jennifer Alexandra Johnston turned in a beautifully balanced and phrased performance. Flutist Ransom played with a focused and warm tone matched by her string colleagues.
Prague-born Frantisek Kotzwara (1730-1791) was a virtuoso double bassist whose mature career was based in England. His only work to have achieved renown is The Battle of Prague which was popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and is even mentioned in Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad. Ranson did not allude to Kotzwara's notorious death, best described as the first recorded death from erotic asphyxiation.
Kotzwara's Sonata No. 1 in G for viola and cello is a welcome, winning addition to the small number of works for this mellow combination. Violist Simon Ertz was joined by cellist Johnston for a beautifully poised performance with full, rich string tone from both players. The first movement featured attractive melodies and fully exploited the sound of the blending of the duo. The delightful third movement ended the piece with an elaborate viola theme set against a chugging cello baseline.
The centerpiece of Gray Auditorium is the restored Tannenberg Organ (1799/1800). The Philadelphia-based David Tannenberg (1728-1804) made two lines of organs, South German styled organs that were intended for solos in Lutheran Churches, and Moravian organs intended to blend with parishioners' singing. Organist Susan Bates skillfully accompanied soprano Marilyn Taylor for three sacred songs. These were "Ich bin in meinem Geiste" by David Moritz Michael (1751-1827), "Ihre Seele gefiel Gott" by Johann Ludwig Freydt (1748-1807), and "Ich will mit euch ein ewigen Bund machen" by Johann F. Peter (1746-1813), one of the most prominent and prolific composers in the archives. He was active in Salem from 1780 to 1789. Since no printed texts were included, Taylor gave rough translations before singing. Taylor's performance was characterized by outstanding diction, precise intonation, and a well-rounded tone.
Marches played by the band were a popular entertainment in Salem and transcriptions of three, "George Washington March," “George Washington at the Battle of Trenton March,” and "Yankee Doodle with Variations," were played by flutist Ransom, violinists Corine Brouwer and Carrasco, violist Ertz, and cellist Johnston with harpsichordist Susan Bates. The last was the most interesting with each variation followed with a reprise of the original. Each variation featured different groupings from within the ensemble.
Viennese composer Leopold Hofmann (1738-1793) became choral director of St. Peters, Vienna in 1764 and became its Kapellmeister in 1769. He composed numerous symphonies and concertos, a number of which are currently available on five Naxos CDs. According to the Grove Music Online, the composer Carl Nicolai "apostrophized him as the founder of a Viennese 19th-century school of violin playing (as embodied in Schuppanzigh, Mayseder, the Hellmesberger family, and others)." At his death, Mozart was Hofmann's unpaid assistant. He had hoped to outlive Hofmann and finally secure a court appointment!
While not an undiscovered masterpiece, Hofmann's Sinfonia in A, one of some seven symphonies in that key, was the most interesting work on the program. Its four movements were nicely contrasted and inventive with attractive themes and unexpected modulations. This was a work of first rate craftsmanship by an accomplished, highly successful composer. This sinfonia was performed in a transcription, much as it might have been in 18th century Salem, by violinists Brouwer and Carrasco, violist Ertz, cellist Johnston, and harpsichordist Bates. The first movement had a lovely duet for violins, the fast paced and witty second movement was immediately winning, while the third movement set instruments in strong contrast and featured a lovely, prominent lute stop part for the keyboard, ending with a rousing finale.