Sunday, June 18, 2006

ARCHIVE  •  2006  •  SUN 18  •  MON 19  •  WED 21  •  FRI 23  •  SUN 25

Saint Michael & All Angels Church, 4 p.m.

Baroque Concertos

Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
Rob Diggins, violin
Jolianne von Einem, violin
William Skeen, violoncello
John Thiessen, trumpet
Timothy Howard, organ
Festival Orchestra
Burton Karson, conductor

Leonardo Leo (1694-1744)
Concerto in D
for violoncello

Andantino grazioso
Con bravura
Larghetto un poco mosso
Allegro di molto

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
Concerto in G minor, D 85
for violon

Fuga a la breve
Allegro assai

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto in D
for trumpet


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto in D
for two violins & violoncello

Adagio e spiccato
Largo e spiccato


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Two Sinfonias in D minor, BWV 35
for organ


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Suite in D
for trumpet

Gigue: Allegro
Aire [Menuetto]

Eighteenth-century concertos reflect more than one hundred years of use of the term concerto for many types of ensemble music, sacred and secular, that contained arresting alternations of forces: boys’ versus men’s choruses, winds versus strings, fast versus slow and high versus low pitched sections, chordal versus fugal textures, soloists versus larger groups, both choral and instrumental, etc. The goal in Baroque music, painting, architecture and other artistic media was dramatic contrasts. The High Baroque concerto’s basic three movements — fast, slow, fast — occasionally introduced a fourth and, rarely, a fifth movement to the grouping. Today’s concertos, except for the two movements excerpted from a Bach cantata, offer four and five movements.


Leonardo Leo is one of those composers of importance in his time but seldom performed in our day. A Neapolitan church organist and prominent teacher, his compositional output was mostly serious and comic operas, oratorios and other sacred vocal forms, and chamber cantatas. His instrumental music, published in Paris, London and Milan, consists of around a dozen overtures, trios and small ensembles, fourteen harpsichord toccatas, and six concertos for violoncello and string orchestra dating from 1737-8.

In style, the violoncello concerto in D pushes the late-Baroque slightly into the early-Classical mannerisms of the second half of the eighteenth century. Notice the orchestral whirlwinds versus the jerky rhythmic patterns of the soloist in the first movement, the trumpet-like arpeggios and trills of the second, the dance-like (Sarabande) Larghetto, a fugue that seems somewhat academic in this context, and a rollicking final Allegro di molto. BACK


Giuseppe Tartini, himself a virtuoso violinist, also edged toward the gallant or pre-Classical style. A northern Italian (vastly different in temperament and even language and foods from the southern Neapolitans), he departed Italy for a three-year stay in Prague (1723- 26) evidently due to a paternity suit by his Venetian landlady.

This four-movement work in G minor also includes a fugue, a rarity in a concerto, here with a descending grimly chromatic “subject.” The Cantabile movement, in contrast, is short and sweet and for soloist and violins only. The outer movements are rhythmically gripping, with eccentric and expressive solo figurations and double stops, some of these being bariolage effects: rapid alternations of the bow on two strings, one open and the other stopped. BACK


Telemann, a northern German, is known as the most prolific composer of the Baroque period and, in terms of number of individual compositions, perhaps in all of music history. The story of his clever manipulations for the offer of a high salary from Leipzig for the position that eventually went to J. S. Bach (sadly then for Leipzig) but resulted in a huge salary raise for him from Hamburg is well known (and part of the subject of the upcoming premiere of “Bach at Leipzig” on the Argyros Stage of South Coast Repertory!).

Of his nearly one hundred concertos, only one is for trumpet. After a rare Adagio opening movement that reflects the church sonata form, the Allegro begins with the solo trumpet over the basso continuo in a rhythmic figure heard throughout the movement and with a melodic shape similar to the famous opening measures of the Charpentier “Te Deum” that will conclude our Festival Finale. The trumpet rests during the Grave before leading the ripieno strings of the final Allegro in repeated melodic chases. BACK


Vivaldi’s history as the “Red Priest” of Venice, who gave up priestly functions in favor of writing operas, cantatas, Mass and Psalm settings, and nearly six hundred instrumental concertos, has been told often. Of his more than forty multiple concertos, one is for one violin and two violoncelli, and another is for two violins and two cellos. Today’s, for two violins and cello, was so admired by Johann Sebastian that he arranged it as an organ solo, and it appears in the catalogue of his works as BWV 596.

Vivaldi is credited with solidifying the three-movement solo concerto form, but here we have four movements of what must be described as a concerto grosso: a group of soloists called the concertino that makes war and peace with the string orchestra called the ripieno. The recognizable melodic and rhythmic intensity of Vivaldi’s style, in fast or slow motion, is nearly a cliché that begs no description. BACK


Of Bach’s two hundred surviving church cantatas, the majority fall into a pattern that opens with a substantial polyphonic choral/orchestral movement, proceeds through solo recitatives and arias, and concludes with a chorale. Some longer ones are in two parts and intended for performance immediately before and after the sermon. A few include an obbligato part for the organ. Cantata 35 includes two virtuosic sinfonias for organ and orchestra, here excerpted for concert performance. BACK


Handel’s “Water Music” of 1717, famous then and now, profitably published and republished, was included in part by Handel in subsequent compositions. This suite for trumpet, strings and basso continuo was announced by London publisher Daniel Wright as “A Choice Sett of Aires, call’d HANDEL’S WATER PIECE, composed in Parts for a Variety of Instruments” in 1733 and soon after appeared as “Mr. Handel’s Water Piece.” Although the Gigue and Minuet were new, nothing is known about Handel’s involvement or even approval. His entertainingly insouciant melodic and rhythmic language here is irresistible. BACK

Notes by Buron Karson


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