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Two harpsichordists and the intimate setting at the Chapel of the Cross added up to a splendid evening of unique music from the late Baroque and early Classical periods. It was a relatively rare opportunity to hear these delightful instruments come out of the shadow of the continuo role they are usually assigned. The instrument was most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque eras and faded in popularity in direct proportion to the development of the pianoforte with its ability for a vast versatility of sound. In the nineteenth century such artists as Arnold Dolmetsch, Violet Gordon-Woodhouse and Wanda Landowska led a revival of interest, and in the 21st century there have been some compositions by renowned composers.
Elaine Funaro has been heard around the world in solo recitals and in concerts with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles. She is past president of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America.
Beverly Biggs is a freelance harpsichordist and artistic director of Baroque and Beyond for which she produces a series of concerts under the nonprofit umbrella of Preservation Chapel Hill. She is heard frequently in the area in Baroque concerts.
First on the program was the Suite in C minor (for two harpsichords) by G. F. Handel (1685-1759),ch comprising four dances. There are a number of early copies of this piece available from different sources. However, in all of them the second part is missing. Musicologists familiar with Handel's style and other pieces of the same or similar design have created different versions of a part for the second harpsichord. In today's concert, Biggs and Funaro performed a version they put together themselves from all the resources available to them. It certainly worked beautifully, giving us a sampling of the rich and full sounds two harpsichords can make together.
The first movement was an Allemande combining the lovely and the stately. This was followed by a rather playful Courante, which often conveyed the mood of sweet expectation. The Sarabande had a hint of sadness, but more in a romantic, dreamy way. The closing Chaconne was stately and elegant.
Next we heard from the youngest son of J. S. Bach, who is frequently referred to as "The London Bach," due to his considerable success and popularity with English audiences. Johann Christian Bach's Allegro from Sonata in G, W.A. 21 was a tuneful delight giving the harpsichords a chance to sing.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was the oldest son of J. S. Bach, who was recognizably talented as an organist and as a composer, but had difficulties in his career and died in poverty. His Concerto a Duo Cembali Concertati in F is a very delightful example from the early Classical period. The Allegro moderato was clever and tuneful with interesting developments along the way. The Andante was tender with a charming melodic structure and the Presto was a dramatic conclusion. Biggs' and Funaro's artistic skills were exquisitely on display in their performance of this piece.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach was J. S. Bach's fifth son, the first son born to Anna Magdelena. We heard the Rondo of his Sonata in C written for keyboard four hands. The technicality of doing it on one keyboard requires coordinating passages where the hands of the performers cross over or under the hands of the other. Thus our practical artists chose to take advantage of the two harpsichords at hand. It was a playful and delightful romp interestingly developed and a pleasure to hear.
The last piece on the program was introduced by Funaro as a favorite of hers from her high school days when she played it on the piano. It was the Concerto in D, Hob. XVIII/11 of Joseph Haydn. The opening Vivace was lively with thrilling runs, unexpected turns, enticing syncopation and here and there a touch of Haydn's sense of humor. The second movement, marked "Un poco adagio" was a charming melody embellished with wonderful trills and turns. The third movement, Rondo all' Ungarese (Hungarian Rondo) was lively and joyful and a sparkling conclusion to a splendid concert.
Funaro and Biggs are exceptionally gifted harpsichordists. Their communication across the keyboards was flawless, their technical execution was stunning and their enthusiastic connection with the audience was outstanding. We are most fortunate to have been serenaded by them.