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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Worthy Parley

From the Vault Dept.: The Union College Concert Series kicks off its current season on Oct. 16 with an appearance by the Belcea Quartet, performing works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Below is a look at a memorable event from the 1987-88 season.


PAUL O’DETTE LOOKS MORE LIKE a computer designer than a virtuoso lutenist, and his roly-poly hirsute appearance makes him look like a Koala. His theorbo, a bass lute, is taller than he is; and, he assures us, it’s one of the smaller models of that range.

The Parley of Instruments
Whether balancing the huge theorbo or crouching over a tiny sopranino lute, O’Dette was a master of the instruments. He performed with the Parley of Instruments yesterday afternoon at Union College’s Memorial Chapel in a program of Baroque-era works by Vivaldi and others.

Artful violence, merriment, worship and nasty weather were among the ideas represented on the program – the turn of the 18th century was a good time for painting pictures in music. A study of “The School of Fencing” was depicted in a sonata by Heinrich Schmelzer that opened the concert and was concerned with the stylized moves – and not-so-stylized wounding – of a fencing match.

The Parley of Instruments, a British ensemble making its first American tour this season, specializes in authentic renderings of music from two or more centuries ago, under the joint direction of organist Peter Holman and cellist Mark Caudle. Also comprising the group were violinists Judith Tarling and Stephen Jones, violist Lisa Cochrane, and David Douglas playing the bass-fiddle-like violone.

Their excellent performances, a matter of a clearly-defined interpretation that never lets the academic interfere with the musical, should wipe the background-music stigma from Vivaldi et. al.; let’s hope so. “The Four Seasons” and Pachelbel’s “Canon” are in danger of becoming the theme songs of those who pay lip service to classical music but don’t actually listen. Baroque pieces are easy to doze to, to converse over.

In the concert hall there is the opportunity to sit up and pay attention, and yesterday’s program certainly rewarded the scrupulous listener.

Violinist Benjamin Hudson took two solos, each a concerto by Vivaldi. Whose concerto style is delightfully predictable: a catchy Allegro to start, a thoughtful, rhythmic middle and a jumpy finale that will contain at least one impressive technically-difficult lick.

Most familiar of the two was the “Winter” movement from the “Four Seasons,” adhering closely to the composer’s programmatic intentions of portraying the icy winds (Allegro), a quiet sit by the fireside (Largo) and the comic challenge of a walk on a frozen pond (Allegro).

A sonata for six players by Biber, titled “The Peasant’s Churchgoing Procession” had an amusing interlude of responsorial singing as well as a post-service bit of rowdyness.

O’Dette was featured soloist in Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto in D Major, a favorite of guitarists but benefitting from the authenticity of this setting, and a Mandolin Concerto in C Major known to moviegoers from “Kramer vs. Kramer” and all the more zestful for O’Dette’s unflagging virtuosity.

They played the Pachelbel Canon, in its original form with an attached jig. It’s nice to come back to the Mona Lisa after you’ve been forced to examine a succession of poor imitations, but this work never was a Mona Lisa and should have been put to rest a decade ago. A good performance only reminds us what a trifle it was even before its overexposure.

The next concert of the series takes place at 8 PM Feb. 2 and features the return of soprano Sylvia McNair in works by Mozart, Schubert, Barber, Poulenc and Britten.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 25 January 1988

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