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Friday, November 20, 2020

Breezy Baroque

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Here’s another look back at where I was planting my critical butt thirty-five years ago. Performances by Capitol Chamber Artists were always welcome events, and I’m glad to be reminded of their dedication to works both old and (then) new.


BAROQUE CHAMBER MUSIC can be austere or friendly. It requires a decision from the performers to bring out the fun or to play it like pedants.

Johann Joachim Quantz
What makes a concert by Capitol Chamber Artists so enjoyable is that they’re obviously having fun and they share it. A concert yesterday at Page Hall in Albany offered music from the 18th and 20th centuries.

Genial flutist Irvin Gilman introduced a trio sonata by Johann Joachim Quantz, to whom we’re indebted for a lot of the late-Baroque flute repertory. It’s nice to have these living program notes: Who started this image of classical musicians as tight-lipped snobs anyway? At least this group is working to undo that.

A good collaboration between Gilman and violinist Mary Lou Saetta was complemented by splendid continuo work by harpsichordist Gordon Hibberd and cellist Ted Hoyle. Gilman is fond of likening this to jazz, and there certainly was more the feel of a hip combo than a Baroque quartet.

A flute concerto by Haydn closed the first half, giving us an even better look at Gilman’s skill. Here a small orchestra comprised violinist Janet Rowe, violist Angelo Frascarelli, and cellist Bettina Roulier in addition to the above-mentioned trio. Paring down the accompanying ensemble to so few makes much more of a demand upon the players, and here something was lacking. They played too much like a sextet with flute rather than a small orchestra: more dynamic drama might have helped, especially in the middle movement, an Adagio.

The performance was good, but I expect something out of the ordinary from this group. It was nice to hear Gilman cut loose on a concerto, though, and he did what every soloist should be required to do: wrote his own cadenzas, which were brief and effective. Perhaps next time he’ll do what he threatened in his introduction and improvise them on the spot.

Joel Chadabe wrote “Rhythms VI” in 1982. He has a considerable reputation for his work in electronic music, which he teaches locally. In this case, it was a work for tape and trio, the tape being a realization of music he usually provides on the spot with computer. As he said in his introduction, having it on tape makes it more portable for the artists.

Gilman and Saetta were joined by Richard Albagli on marimba; on tape was a syncopated series of short notes that had a pleasant sound without seeming to gravitate toward a strict tonal center. The players inserted written material ad lib, giving an element of chance to the performance. To give it a most simplistic image, it was as if the performers were working to a stereo rhythm box, but the electronic sounds also could be likened to a strict continuo.

This was an excellent contrast to the Quantz trio sonata, the spontaneity of which made it seem created on the spot; here we had work that really was created on the spot but with enough of a structure to give it cohesiveness.

Albagli also joined the group for the final work, five contradances by Mozart that included a part for side-drum. He confesses that he is waiting for the discovery of a drum concerto by Mozart, and he’d be terrific as the soloist.

The dances, a breezy assortment of steps, included a variation on the aria “Non piu andrai” from “The Marriage of Figaro” and a humorous rondo whose pretty theme was mocked by drum and off-key flute.

The next local performance by Capitol Chamber Artists takes place in Page Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15 and will feature the world premiere of a work by Albany-based composer Joseph Fennimore as well as works by Bach, Vivaldi, and Hovhaness.

– Schenectady Gazette, 18 November 1985

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