Hello, All you SPCO and festival fans!
Paul and I have just returned from the Sunday afternoon Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) performance at Ted Mann. It was a stunner.
After seating ourselves next to Eve and Henry Clark, of Rosedale, we had time for a bit of “get to know you” chat. Eve and Henry have been SPCO devotees for the past 25 years. “Did you get a chance to see the concert when they performed Rhapsody in Blue?” Eve wondered. When I said we’d loved it, she said that she had too: “It really knocked my socks off!”
First off was the Telemann Overture in E Minor from Tafelmusik. Paul and I thought this a clever, happy little piece. The flutes (black and wooden, as discussed on the OAE website) lent a spritely mood.
Vivaldi’s Concerto in D for Two Oboes, Two Violins and Bassoon, came next on the program. I’ve always loved Vivaldi—his Four Seasons was the first classical music that actually reached me emotionally. It was wonderfully vivaldish - the violins going “tweedle tweedle tweedle” in the right places (the effect is that of the stoppage of time), the wooden oboes, more cornet-like than I was expecting, rational and grounding for the high-strung violins. And the wonderful bassoon…the music for the bassoon here was more melodic than I’ve heard before. I whispered to Paul, “Have you noticed that Ms. Podger smiles often?” The rest of the ensemble were smilers as well. And they didn’t seem to be smiling in a goofy, insincere way. Just celebrative and glad.
After these light pleasures, the weight of Bach. I hadn’t realized until Paul mentioned it to me, that we had never heard live a Bach Cantata. This was Bach Cantata No. 51, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!” I did not really need to look at the provided translation to understand from the clear joyful tones that the piece was filled with praise for the Christian, Almighty, All-giving God of Johann Bach. A master craftsman in glorification to his Lord, in this cantata he chose to meld the arias of a soprano singer with those of a trumpet in a golden (not gilded, golden) molten river of sound. Amen.
Paul: Like Dee, I loved the OAE’s performance of this cantata; what a privilege. The closest we’d come before was listening to the John Eliot Gardiner series on CD. But hearing live the unfamiliar looking 18th century (I presume) trumpet in tandem with the wonderful singing of the soprano, Ms. Rachel Nicholls, was for me the peak of this concert. The trumpeter, Mr. David Blackadder, wove the most sympathetic and accomplished accompaniment one could imagine.
After intermission, refreshment for our musical palates came in the form of the Zelenka piece, Hipocondrie à 7 concertanti in A. Ms. Podger, in a kind attempt to prepare us for the “quite bizarre sounding” piece, explained that it “keeps changing, sometimes within the bar!” I enjoyed the Zelenka, but not as much as did Paul. “Hmm…yes, odd but lovely, the violins ask and everyone answers together,” I thought. And since the piece featured lots of bassoon, I was happy. Paul was really struck, though: “I really liked that.” He felt the piece may have been questioning, mildly and politely, the rules Baroque musical forms followed.
Paul: More importantly, to repeat the sage words of our concert neighbor Eve, it really knocked my socks off.
Our soprano vocalist charmingly introduced Telemann’s Cantata “Etrage nur das Joch der Mängel” by warning, “It’s rather more miserable than the Bach cantata.” Looking at the translation, we were a bit startled to see “…one suffers pain in this flame that sizzles through the blood… .” The piece was darkly beautiful; the music serious as the angelic voice warns of hell to those who don’t follow the difficult, narrow road to heaven. Nicholls really sang with conviction. Paul and I both remarked on her special hissing emphasis on the “zischt,” or “sizzle.” We thought Nichols' unabashed dramatizing of the words of the piece was a welcome change from sometimes overly respectful and thus staid treatments of this music we have heard (on CD, at least!).
Both of us wordsmiths, Paul and I sometimes find ourselves bereft of them. Such is the case with the OAE performance of Bach’s “Concerto in D for Three Violins” (arranged by Ms. Podger herself). If I’d arranged it myself, I’d have been tempted to give the most dramatic bits to myself. She did not. But to the music: in the first Allegro, emphasis here (for me) was on the three realms I feel Bach most inhabits: heaven, music, and earth. I felt perfect accord between the realms, as represented by the three violin solos. The adagio was warm with the sound of the two cellos. Once we reached the Allegro (the third and last movement), the violins were back in charge. Each violin had its own distinctive tone. And each possessed its own incredibly intricate, sometimes vigorous, yet blissful song, weaving in and out of the other two’s paths.
A rousing standing ovation brought, not what we’d thought was the end of the program, but more Bach. It was a lovely gift from our British friends—a special thank you. As if we had not been feted by their talent and warmth throughout their stay at our festival, they thanked us.