Music review: An evening in antiquity with the English Concert

The English Concert, the Cadillac of period ensembles, played Wednesday night at Union College’s Mem

The English Concert, the Cadillac of period ensembles, played Wednesday night at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the 40th International Festival of Chamber Music.

Led by harpsichordist Harry Bicket, who has been the group’s artistic director since 2007, the 12-piece ensemble is on a two-week U.S. tour that includes a Carnegie Hall concert tonight. The musicians all play on period instruments, many of which sound and look different than their modern counterparts. It made for interesting and oftentimes surprising colors, as well as visual appeal.

The program varied from using all the players to spotlighting a few. They began with Henry Purcell’s “Suite from King Arthur” (1691) and used long bows, no vibrato, elastic phrases and a balanced sound. Ornamentation was tasteful. Bicket, who led from the keyboard for all the pieces, gave perky and precise direction and set sprightly, buoyant tempos. Most of the players also stood.

Mark Bennett and Michael Harrison played on trumpets with long bells. An inner section had the two oboists on recorders. Their hollow tones, which were offset by a bouncy articulation and against the running bass of the bassoon all sounded cute.

The 16 variations in Vivaldi’s Sonata in D minor “La Folia” (1705) were exuberant, with the strings virtuosic and the baroque guitarist’s strums sounding like a harp. Oboist Katharine Spreckelsen had the spotlight in Telemann’s Tafelmusik (1733). Her instrument, which was made of boxwood, sounded more like today’s English horn, with a big, deep and hollow sound.

The piece was interesting as it moved from major to minor tonalities. She and Bennett traded motifs seamlessly as the piece rolled along at a good clip. Dynamics were applied effectively. Everyone played with great elan.

Bennett and Harrison were featured in Vivaldi’s famous Trumpet Concerto in C Major. They played either in close harmony or traded motifs and showed off their brilliant arpeggios and trills. Tempos were brisk. The big surprise was to hear violist Alfonso Leal del Ojo in Telemann’s Concerto in G Major (1716-1721). Baroque viola has a deep, chocolatey tone that was more like a cello.

Del Ojo played with a big sound, was eloquent in the beautiful opening movement and showed an easy technique in the quicker movements. Pacing was strong.

The final work on the program was Purcell’s very diverse and richly textured Suite from “The Fairy Queen” (1692), which the group performed with great style and aplomb.

Categories: Entertainment

Leave a Reply