For its final concert of its second season, the Raleigh Camerata, the excellent period-instrument ensemble, paid a call to Southern European climes – Italy, specifically, but from long, long before that country was unified. The program, presented in the chapel of St. Raphael's Catholic Church, began at 7 p.m. with the sun still pouring through the lively and attractive room's large windows, adding a certain external glow to the inner glow of the music.
The artists of this ensemble aren't all Raleighites – one of the violinists is Russian-born and another ensemble member is Venezuelan – but music is a universal language, and on this occasion, all "spoke" Italian in one way or another. And based on their bios, all have academic and performing credentials of high caliber.
The flutist (and artistic director) was Kelly Nivison Roudabush, the oboist was Tom Turanchik, the bassoonist was Imani Mosley, the vocalist, guitarist, and lutenist was Salomé Sandoval, the violinists were Allison Willet (who also played viola d'amore) and Matvey Lapin, the cellist was Stephanie Vial, and the harpsichordist was Jennifer Streeter (playing a 1980 David Sutherland instrument).
The program, a notable sampling of the great, not-so-great, and basically unknown, was as richly varied and engaging – and often as revelatory – as the playing. The big heavies were represented – important scores by Vivaldi closed both halves, a lovely concerto by Alessandro Scarlatti (father of Domenico) launched the program, and a big sonata (involving, not atypically, five players) by Giovanni Battista Sammartini (who was definitely ahead of his time) was heard after intermission. The latter was a major surprise, for it seemed to point far into the post-Baroque future.
But there were other surprises along the way. One of these was an ode to spring by Luzzasco Luzzaschi, radiantly sung by Sandoval, whose voice and playing skills (here, a lute) were among the concert's absolute highlights. Later, she sang a cantata by Barbara Strozzi that, like the Sammartini, pointed far ahead to the kind of emotion and drama the early Romanticists often seemed hesitant to project so fully. Likewise, a violin sonata by Ignazio Albertini (with basso continuo provided by Vial and Streeter) served as a splendid showcase for Lapin's exceptional abilities as an interpreter and virtuoso. Oboist Turanchik figured prominently in a quartet also involving flute, violin (Willett), and a trio of basso players (cello, guitar, and harpsichord) and in the Vivaldi concerto that ended part one. His instrument seemed to blend less well with the others, maybe because there was too much volume from it but also perhaps due to its somewhat nasal tone (although it was – mercifully – a far cry from a crumhorn). Willett surely dazzled everyone with her viola d'amore in a sonata by Attilio Ariosti, partnered by cello and lute (and thus making for music of exceptionally sonorous depth and richness).
Speaking of the playing, we've come a long way, technically and interpretively, in how early music is presented. No longer do the artists have to stop at the end of each little section to re-tune (and I am not speaking of these artists, but instead some of the artists who first brought period playing to this region). For the most part, these artists stay in tune, as demonstrated by the fact that lapses were both few and, in the overall scheme of things, minor.
By the time this generous program of nine works came to a close, the sun had set, but its warmth continued in the room as eager and curious listeners talked with the artists about their instruments and the concert they had played.
Incidentally, the attractive program contained bios of the artists and notes on all the music, plus a useful reminder of where a lot of these early scores now come from: the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library, online here, which boasts "92,257 works, 314,034 scores, 35,061 recordings, [and] 12,620 composers." One could spend a lifetime there, so let's support these Camerata folks and let them spend their time there for us instead!
The Raleigh Camerata will announce its 2015-16 season in June. We'll list those programs in CVNC in due course. Enthusiasts of historically-informed performance take note!