Baroque Band opens season with lively, lesser known Italian music

Sat Oct 09, 2010 at 2:49 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Baroque Band performed an Italian program Friday night at Hyde Park Union Church.

Baroque Band opened its fourth season Friday night in Hyde Park with a characteristically enterprising lineup of Italian concerti grossi, which featured some well known composers as well as some rarely heard works.

Granted, on paper the prospect of eight Baroque string concertos looked daunting. Yet the works’ brevity and the contrasts of composer styles made for an intriguing night of discovery at Hyde Park Union Church.

The whimsically titled program, “Hell’s Angels” derives from the divergence between the rarefied expression of Corelli and the supposed 
“devilish” inspirations of Tartini and Locatelli.

Two of Tomaso Albinoni’s Concerti a cinque, Op. 7 (Nos. 1 and 7) led off the two halves of the program. As director Garry Clarke noted, the composer had little to do with his main source of fame today, “Albinoni’s Adagio,” which was almost entirely composed by another hand, yet these buoyant works served as spirited curtain-raisers.

While most of the selections adhered to the tripartite, fast-slow-fast Baroque model, there was still sufficient variety to keep things interesting. Alessandro Scarlatti’s Concerto Grossi in 7 parts, No. 5, is cast in a more galant “old-style” form, but even here offers a Grave section with a subdued yet surprising tragic dimension.

The most striking music was the Sinfonia to Il pianto e il riso delle Quattro Stagioni by Benedetto Marcello. A satirical pamphleteer of note as well as composer, Marcello’s overture offers quirky, angular melodic turns and some startling modulations—kind of a C.P.E. Bach with an Italian accent.

Leading from the violin in his unorthodox herky-jerky style, Clarke drew out the originality and strangeness of Marcello’s music, and the ensemble fully conveyed the unsettling landscape of the pensive Andante with its ominous bass tread and sudden pauses.

Clarke also provided his own reconstruction of Tartini’s other G-minor sonata, Op. 1, no. 10, Didone abbondonata, considerably more conservative than the famous Devil’s Trill. And music of the master Arcangelo Corelli closed the evening with his Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 6, no. 11. Clarke and company reserved a richer sonority for Corelli’s melodic music yet without sacrificing an essential elegance and incisive rhythmic point. Craig Trompeter provided terrific playing in the restless running cello passages.

The performances had the style, verve, fine balances and unstuffy scholarship audiences have come to expect from Clarke and his dozen period-instrument colleagues. While technically polished for the most part, there were some wayward moments in the second half, with Clarke’s solo segueing out of tune in the final movement of Locatelli’s Concerto grosso in F major, which seemed to throw off the ensemble as well.

Still, an enjoyable evening of some lesser known byways of the Italian Baroque, which benefited from the superb acoustic of Hyde Park Union Church.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Grainger Ballroom, Symphony Center.; 312-235-2368.

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