BALTIMORE SUN FEBRUARY 7, 2013
Bleated report on Pro Musica Rara's SuperBach Sunday
Pro Musica Rara had a great quarter-Bach for its concert on Super Bowl Sunday -- Johann Sebastian. The early music/period instrument group has an annual tradition of presenting a wintry program scheduled around or, as it turned out this time, exactly on the day of the biggest football game of the year. Billed as SuperBach Sunday, the concert typically has a unifying theme. This one, which drew a good-sized audience to Towson University's Center for the Arts, found a particularly interesting hook.
It centered on the court of Frederick the Great and featured one of Bach's monumental exercises in contrapuntal ingenuity, "The Musical Offering," based on a slithery theme supposedly devised by the king himself.
Hard to believe that the revered monarch who could come up with such a harmonically challenging melodic line was the same guy who wrote the mundane march played on the first half of Sunday's concert. I guess even supreme rulers have their off days.
Still, it was fun hearing that ditty and the more substantive and elegant Flute Sonata No. 9, not to mention the fine Flute Quartet No. 1 by Quantz, one of Frederick's favored composers. The Quantz work, in particular, inspired a smooth, colorful performance from flutist Sara Nichols, violinist Greg Mulligan, violist Sharon Pineo Meyer, harpsichordist Dongsok Shin and cellist and Pro Musica artistic director Allen Whear.
But the main event, in terms of music and music-making, came in the second half as those five players, plus violinist Ivan Stefanovic, offered the "Offering." It's a long, complex work made up of more than as dozen individual components, so Whear sensibly provided introductory remarks to each, accompanied by quick demonstrations of things to listen out for. I often lose patience with chitchat during concerts, but Whear kept his remarks brief, enlightening and spiced with a wit drier than the driest vermouth.
A few frayed edges aside, the playing was quite nimble and expressive, with many a telling detail, such as Nichols' downright sensual phrasing at the start of the "Canon a 4." She, Stefanovic, Whear and Shin did shining work in the darkly beautiful Trio Sonata that, as Whear pointed out, demonstrated that Bach could write as well for the heart as for the mind, all the while extracting still more mileage out of the royal theme. And all six musicians rose to the challenge of the concluding Ricercar, tapping into the score's almost spiritual immersion into the intricacies of fugal thought.
Pro Musica Rara's season-opener features Scottish songs arranged by Beethoven
Pro Musica Rara's 38th season opened Sunday afternoon with a gem of a program and stylish music-making to go with it. Folk songs from Scotland, arranged by Beethoven, had a prominent spot in the concert. These items provide a fascinating glimpse into a little known side of Beethoven, who arranged a great number of songs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland (on commission) in between penning some of his most famous and important works. It may be tempting to dismiss these songs as inconsequential, but that would be a mistake. The composer took the job of arranger seriously, honoring the folk melodies fully and fashioning vivid accompaniment for piano, violin and cello. The quality and character of Beethoven's Scottish Songs emerged engagingly in the Pro Musica performance at Towson University's Center for the Arts.
British-born tenor Rufus Muller brought considerable elegance of phrase to the material, his voice growing warmer and sweeter as the afternoon progressed. His account of "Sunset" and "Faithfu' Johny" proved especially eloquent, and he also had no trouble uncorking the jaunty spirits of such numbers as "The Shepherd's Song" and "Sally in Our Alley" (which he embellished delectably). Violinist Cynthia Roberts, cellist Allen Whear and fortepianist Christoph Hammer backed Muller with playing of admirable nuance and color. The distinctive tonal palette of the period instruments added greatly to the experience.
On their own, the three players also did impress[ive] work in Beethoven's C minor Trio (Op. 1, No. 3), tapping into the music's drama and lyricism. The soft ending was articulated with particular sensitivity. There was room, too, for instrumental arrangements of folk songs that found a place in Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy," and Geminiani's baroque treatment of "Lady Bothwel's Lament." A group of Haydn's English songs opened the concert. Muller encountered some uneven patches here, but his shaping of "She Never Told Her Love" was quite stirring, as was Hammer's sensitive keyboard work -- the pianist's playing was not always spotless Sunday, but it had terrific dynamic and rhythmic nuances all afternoon.
A mastery of his instrument and repertoire that any pianist in the world might envy. Washington Post
Whear played the cleverly evocative cello lines with flair, elegantly supported by harpsichordist Dongsok Shin. The Baltimore Sun
Roberts’ expressive interpretation brought the work’s inner beauty and outer brilliance. Cleveland Plain Dealer
His tonal range on the piano, phrasing and poetic insight were of extraordinary quality. The Pretoria News
Polished, lovely tone of tenor Aaron Sheehan---Washington Post
The indispensable early music tenor, Aaron Sheehan---American Record Guide
…the terrific soprano Julianne Baird, one of the finest vocal artists specializing in early music. Baltimore Sun
shining purity of tone and seamless serenity. Miami Herald
Whear played the cleverly evocative cello lines with flair. The Baltimore Sun
Catherine Turocy still gives one of the most moving performances in dance today. The Washington Star
TEMPESTA DI MARE
The off-the-grid chic factor made the concert one of the season’s irresistable events. A celebratory sense of discovery. Meticulously prepared. Philadelphia Inquirer
Slowik's flowing, intense, and heartfelt performance is its own reward. BBC Music [London]
Cynthia Roberts was the fiery and gleaming soloist, full of bite and speedy flair. Cleveland Plain Dealer
An interpretation that was powerful and filled with emotion...a stunning listening experience. Leipziger Volkszeitung
Her artistry is formidable… technically brilliant and poetically distinctive. Early Music America
Baltimore Sun October 13, 2009
On Pro Musica Rara, Edgar Allan Poe and clever programming
Pro Musica Rara hasn't just become a much more consistent ensemble in recent years. It's become more fun, too.
For its 35th season-opener, the period instrument ensemble offered a novel salute to the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe that included "scary" baroque music and the premiere of a piece devised by cellist and Pro Musica artistic director Allen Whear to accompany a recitation of Poe's chilling story, "The Cask of Amontillado."
On Sunday, while Poe fans were giving the author a proper funeral in Baltimore -- 160 years after his first, poorly attended one -- there was a good turnout for this concert at Towson University's Center for the Arts. I could only stay for the first half (I had a play to review in Columbia that evening), but it proved quite filling.
How often do you get a chance to hear Marin Marais' Le Tableau de l'operation de la taille? This is the composer's cut-by-cut depiction of gall stone surgery, ca. 1700, without, of course, any anesthesia -- and performed, as Whear pointed out in his engaging program notes, on original instruments (yikes). WBJC program director Jonathan Palvesky recited in French the brief descriptions that go with the piece -- "silk restraints for the arms and legs," "introduction of the forceps," and the like -- as Whear played the cleverly evocative cello lines with flair, elegantly supported by harpsichordist Dongsok Shin.
There was a piece by Jean-Marie Leclair nicknamed Le Tombeau, which had a grave beauty that made it ideal for the occasion (so did the fact that the composer was murdered and his killer never brought to justice). Violinist Judson Griffin joined Whear and Shin for an expressive performance. The three also collaborated on a remarkable chaconne by Antonio Bertali to start the concert in dynamic form.
Seeing how Pro Musica Rara acknowledged Poe made me think about other ways the Baltimore music world could have done so. We should have heard some of the compositions inspired by the master of the macabre. What a great hook the Poe bicentennial would have made for, say, programming Rachmaninoff's "The Bells." It's a marvelous work, and one I've never had an opportunity to hear live. I think it would have been an ideal project for the Baltimore Symphony and Baltimore Choral Arts Society.
There's also Florent Schmitt's orchestra piece "The Haunted Palace." And wouldn't it be cool to hear even a few snippets from Debussy's unfinished opera, "The Fall of the House of Usher"? Oh well, maybe when the next Poe anniversary comes around. (UPDATE: I overlooked the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which deserves a shout out for programming Andre Caplet's Contes fantastique, based on "The Masque of the Red Death", in November.) Meanwhile, here's a sampling of Rachmaninoff's "The Bells":
Baltimore Sun February 2, 2009
Pro Musica Rara scores touchdown
"SuperBach Sunday," the annual presentation by Pro Musica Rara, provided more than pre-Super Bowl distraction. The organization's artistic director, cellist Allen Whear, put together a dynamic assortment of baroque fare and a stylish assemblage of musicians to perform it at Towson University's Center for the Arts.
Bach was represented by the brief, colorful Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 75, leaving the rest of the concert divided between Handel and Purcell. A suite from the latter's The Fairy Queen was a high point, both for Purcell's subtle genius and the deft work of the ensemble and soprano Ann Monoyios. She shaped "O let me weep" with a pure tone and unforced expressiveness, articulating the sighing phrases with particular beauty. The instrumentalists meshed admirably in the dance movements, handling such things as the decrescendo at the end of the Monkey's Dance with real charm. Sara Nichols produced gentle pastel tones on the transverse flute; John Thiessen negotiated the trumpet lines, always tricky on a period instrument, quite gracefully.
There was similarly fine music-making throughout the afternoon. Excerpts from Handel's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, for example, were performed with a poetic touch, inspiring some eloquent phrasing by Monoyios, Nichols and Whear. The soprano's ornamentation of the same composer's "Let the bright Seraphim" from Samson was another plus; Thiessen had the trumpet part in that aria doing a kind of singing, too. Handel's Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, No. 3, received a vivid account; the fugal finale emerged with quite an effective bite.
For the record, the other performers on Sunday were violinists Cynthia Roberts, Greg Mulligan and Ivan Stefanovic; violist Sharon Pineo Myer; and harpsichordist Amy Rosser.
The concert provided yet another reminder of how nicely Pro Music Rara has developed in the past several years with Whear at the helm. But, as a fundraising plea at intermission drove home, the organization could use more support as it heads for its 35th anniversary next season.