Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Repast Baroque Ensemble's "Them Foreigners": musical multiculturalism in the 17th and 18th centuries.

This concert was on October 18, but the demands of remunerative work and of keeping the Brooklyn Heights Blog going have delayed my review. Nevertheless, I think it's still a useful exercise, as I want to do what I can to raise awareness of the work of the Repast Baroque Ensemble.

The Ensemble are, from left to right in the photo, Katie Rietman on cello, Gabe Shuford on harpsichord, Amelia Roosevelt on violin, and Stephanie Corwin on bassoon. Bassoon? If you're thinking this is a departure from the usual baroque chamber music lineup, you're right. The lineup can change from concert to concert. In this concert, Ms. Rietman was allowed a break and her place taken temporarily by Sarah Stone, who played a viola da gamba, or viol, an instrument roughly the size of a cello that originated in the fifteenth century. Also, Ms. Roosevelt was joined on violin by Beth Wenstrom.

The theme of the concert was an examination of Baroque era French and German composers' reactions to music of other cultures. The first part featured works by French composers that reflect what Ms. Roosevelt called "the French fascination with the distant and exotic." The first piece was Jean-Baptiste Lully's "March for the Celebration of the Turks," from the comédie-ballet (a play with sung and danced interludes) Lully co-wrote with Molière, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The plot concerns a social climber who is convinced by a con artist that he can arrange a marriage of the victim's daughter to a Turkish prince. My notes on the piece, hastily scribbled on the concert program, are "Stately; European." The music didn't sound to me to be especially Turkish; still, the Turks were something of a European power, and aspired to be a greater one, at the time. You can hear it here, as part of a scene in the movie Tous les matins du monde, and decide for yourself. Repast's ensemble was much smaller than that seen in the movie clip, but played the piece with authority.

The second piece was Jean-Philippe Rameau's Timbourin en Rondeau, part of an Opera-Ballet, Les fêtes d'Hébé, that is based on Greek mythology. The Timbourin, nevertheless, seems influenced by Native American music. It provided an opportunity for Mr. Shuford to leave his keyboard and show his skill at playing a hand drum. This was followed by another Rameau composition, Air tendre, from his opera Dardanus, also on a Greek mythological theme. This was done as a duet between Ms. Corwin's bassoon and Ms. Roosevelt's violin; my note was, "Interesting counterpoint."

Two more French pieces finished the concert's first half. Jean-Pierre Guignon's Les Sauvages is a duet for two violins which Ms. Roosevelt and Ms. Wenstrom played with alacrity. My notes: "Swooping at first, then frenetic, wild, but with dreamy interludes." Then came another Rameau: Pièce de clavecin en concert No. 3, in A Major, for harpsichord, violin, and viola da gamba. This was in three movements. For the first, La Lapopliniere, my notes were "Bouncy; lilting." For the second, La Timide, they were "Anxious; then aspiring, optimistic." The third, Les Timbourins, was "Stirring."

The second part of the concert focused on the German composer Georg Philipp Telemann's fascination with Polish music. The concert's printed program included several quotations from Steven Zohn's Music for a Mixed Taste: Style, Genre, and Meaning in Telemann's Instrumental Works (Oxford University Press, 2015, Chapter 9). Visiting Poland, Telemann was impressed by music of "true barbaric beauty." In his autobiography, he wrote:
Suffice it to say that there is much in this music that is good, if it is handled properly. Since this time I have written various large concertos and trios in this style, clothing them in Italian dress with alternating Adagios and Allegros.
The first Telemann piece was his Duo for Two Flutes in E Minor, TWV40:142, performed with alacrity as a violin duet by Ms. Roosevelt and Ms. Wenstrom. My note for the first movement, Piacevole, is "Sorrowful"; for the second, Andante, it's "Graceful"; and for the third, Scherzando, it's "Danceable." Repast's concerts typically include a piece that allows Mr. Shuford to escape the relative anonymity of providing continuo and to showcase his keyboard virtuosity. The second Telemann piece, Ouverture Burlesque for solo harpsichord, TWV32:2, provided this opportunity, and Mr. Shuford responded masterfully. My note: "Also danceable but courtly, then livelier and playful."

The third piece, Concerto Polonoise in B-flat Major, TWV43:B3, has four movements. The first, Polonoise, elicited another "Playful"; the second, Allegro, "Loping, swings"; the third, Largo, "Soulful"; and the final, another Allegro, "Peppy, rocks!"

The concert concluded with Telemann's Chaconne Comique in A Major, TWV21:8, from his comic opera Der neumodische Liebhaber Damon ("The Newfangled Lover Damon"). My note on this was, simply, "Delightful."

Repast's next concerts will be in March of 2019. The theme will be Wanderlust, "explor[ing] the German fascination with nature and escapism, with inspired repertoire from the early Baroque as well as the early romantic periods." On Thursday evening, March 14 at 8:00 they will be at McKinney Chapel, First Unitarian Church, 116 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn; you may buy tickets here; on Friday evening, March 15 at 8:00 they will be at Advent Lutheran Church, 2504 Broadway, in Manhattan; you may buy tickets here.