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The Magnolia Baroque Festival is a weeklong biennial event in Winston-Salem. Chamber Music Wilmington presented musicians from various Magnolia Baroque performances in an all-Bach concert in acoustically spectacular Beckwith Recital Hall on the campus of UNC-Wilmington.
The players were Christof Richter, violin; John Pruett, violin; Joseph O'Donnell, viola; Stephanie Vial, cello; Tracy Mortimore, double bass; William Simms, theorbo; Rebecca Troxler, flute; Barry Bauguess, trumpet; Susan Foster, harpsichord; Hanna Carter, soprano.
The concert opening with Keyboard Concerto No. 4 in A, S. 1055. Although program notes suggested that this composition may have been intended for fortepiano, the instrument of choice for this performance was a single manual instrument by Williard Martin, more than adequate for this pleasant but domestic composition. It was played by Foster with Richter, Pruett, O'Donnell, Vial, Mortimore, and Simms accompanying. This entire string band played in every piece as noted to follow.
The Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor (S. 1067) has a number of those catchy Baroque tunes that turn up on Bach's Greatest Hits, but it is nonetheless a serious piece of carefully crafted music for flute (here played in her usual limpid style by Troxler) and string band. Troxler was a relaxed and fluid presence on stage. In the Bourrées, the transition from I to II and back again was beautifully crafted. The Polonaise was thrilling and martial. Although Minuets are notated in 3/4, they are heard best, as here, when their six-count meter is emphasized. The Badinerie had heads nodding all around me, and at intermission I heard several of my neighbors telling one another where they had first heard this suite.
The Sonata for Violin and Continuo (S.1021) was performed by Richter, with continuo by Vail, Simms, and Foster. The decision to close the lid of the harpsichord, rendering it largely mute, wisely brought out Simms' extremely idiomatic continuo. Nobody bats an eye when Simms appears on a program at the Music House in Greenville, but the full-house crowd of about 280 people was agog at this instrument. I heard several interesting new names for it, including thurlow and theodorbo. Simms spoke a few words about it at intermission and played a few notes. That seemed to be very helpful, and a number of people around me commented on how they could hear it now that they knew what to listen for. Richter is tall, which makes the violin seem small in his hands, but his playing was deliciously delicate. The double stops in the Vivace were spot-on.
The previous three pieces were all very closely related in the Schmieder Catalog; the finale was a church Cantata, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (S. 51) from the other end of the book. This piece spotlighted soprano soloist Carter and Bauguess, trumpet. The crowd had heard a soprano before, but the valveless baroque trumpet was a wonder like the theorbo. Carter is the perfect voice for this twisty-turny coloratura music. Her voice was pure and clear, with no intonation problems worth mentioning and definitely no vibrato. Hers was no foghorn Wagnerian opera voice, but much more like what one would expect in the choir loft in a relatively small town in 18th century Germany, i.e. in Leipzig – just lovely. Bauguess' trumpet playing was flawless, as usual, and provided a great deal of flair to bring the audience to their feet for a standing ovation and end the evening with a little musical fireworks. This was a polished group of musicians, largely used to playing with each other; Beckwith Hall is a dream to listen in (and pleasant to look at, too). The combination produced a fine concert.