Rebel brings eclectic aplomb to UC’s Early Music series

Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm

By Dennis Polkow

Rebel performed Friday night at the University of Chicago. Photo: Howard Goodman

The University of Chicago Presents’ Howard Mayer Brown Early Music Series program saw the welcome return of the New York-based Baroque ensemble Rebel Friday night, the group’s first area appearance in several years.

The group’s offbeat program “Irregular Pearls: Baroque Music from European Courts and Chambers” sought to spotlight the eccentricity that is the very definition of baroco, i.e., a prized pearl of irregular shape.

Opening with a spirited performance of the Vivaldi Concerto in a minor, RV 108, Matthias Maute led with his recorder acting as melodic leader with the two baroque violins (directors Jörg-Michael Schwarz and Karen Marie Marmer), baroque cello (John Moran) and harpsichord (Dongsok Shin) vigorously responding and interacting. The dynamic balance of the forces was superbly nuanced and the lines exuded with Italianate gusto.

Three trio sonatas of Jewish-Italian composer Salamon Rossi (1570 – ca. 1630) revealed the trajectory of late Renaissance string music to the early Baroque. That development was highlighted by interspersing these works with two pieces by Rossi contemporaries for recorder and basso continuo, Antonio Bertali’s Chiacona and a sonata by Giovanni Antonio Pandodifi Mealli.

Performed uninterrupted as a five piece suite, this was the highlight of the evening with its vast array of colors and forms. The two violins in the outer trio sonatas were sometimes almost Gabrieli-like with their call and response sections that at times, were almost medieval in their contrary motion but would often come together in unison for musical climaxes.

At times such formalism would give way to a folk approach where tempos would pick up and lines filled out in an almost improvised bluegrass-like manner. Likewise, the ground bass of the Bertali became a flash point for Maute to exploit the possibilities of recorder timbres and approaches with extraordinary virtuosity and aplomb.

Also included were sonatas by Corelli and Scarlatti that showed prime examples of early Baroque pieces that extended Rossi-like string writing more lyrically and with more daring modulations.

Two quartets of Telemann were also included, both effectively used to crown each section of the program with stellar examples of the late Baroque with Telemann’s formidable use of harmony and unexpected modulations that already point the way for the Classical era to come.

This season finale of the Early Music Series is also likely to be the final entry of the series in Mandel Hall, as most of next year’s series is scheduled to be presented in the new Logan Center with some events in Rockefeller Chapel.

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