Music from the Court of Frederick the Great, Camerata Tinta Barocca #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Camerata Tinta Barocca with Peter Martens, Wednesday 16 September 2015, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cape Town

King of what is now part of Germany and used to be called Prussia, Frederick II “The Great” was also an enthusiastic flute player and composed one hundred sonatas for this instrument, as well as four symphonies. Last week’s Camerata Tinta Barocca concert featured works by three of Frederick’s court musicians, and one work by himself, although, as Artistic Director and Harpsichord player Erik Dippenaar pointed out, it is likely that the king had quite a lot of help from his composition teacher Johann Quantz.

Frederick the Great, Sonata in C major – Bridget Rennie Salonen, Baroque flute
I could not help but imagine that, on its début, this work must have received a somewhat overzealous applause, in a “clap or die” kind of way – the way one heartily applauds the work of a mildly musical, slightly war-mad monarch, who is watching! Although musically less interesting than real composers, the king’s work was beautifully performed on a breathy Baroque flute by Bridget Rennie Salonen, a pleasure for the ears.

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Bridget Rennie Salonen, (Baroque flute) Peter Martens (Baroque cello) Erik Dippenaar Harpsichord

Bridget Rennie Salonen, (Baroque flute) Peter Martens (Baroque cello) Erik Dippenaar Harpsichord

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Peter Martens (Baroque cello) CPE Bach Cello concerto in A minor

Peter Martens (Baroque cello) CPE Bach Cello concerto in A minor

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CPE Bach, Cello concerto in A minor- Peter Martens, Baroque cello
Soaring above the squall of the composer’s agitated opening movement, Martens’ flawless semiquaver triplets reminded me why this instrument is so beloved of composers. And what a gorgeous tenor sound from this Baroque cello! A swarm of Paganiniesque unlikelihoods burst into the room, as Martens delivered phenomenal technique with staccato runs and arpeggios, like cut crystal, and wonderful dynamic surprises. I particularly enjoyed the passionate interpretation of the cadenza, a clear forerunner of later works by Dvorak and Elgar. The andante was a cool shimmering mirage, a refreshing mental detox, a massage for the emotions.

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Johann Joachim Quantz, Sonata in B minor – Bridget Rennie Salonen, Baroque flute
Last Wednesday’s concert was Solonen’s first performance of her newly acquired Baroque flute, and I was delighted that they both made a second appearance! The blend of soft rounded sounds and deep rich woody mezzo register was expertly navigated by nimble fingers, and gave a Yin to the harder harpsichord’s Yang. I could hear very much more of this!

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Erik Dippenaar introduces the CPE Bach Variations on the Forlie d'Espagna

Erik Dippenaar introduces the CPE Bach Variations on the Forlie d’Espagna

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CPE Bach, Variations on the Forlie d’Espagna – Erik Dippenaar, harpsichord
In keeping with the engaging style of Camerata Tinta Barocca’s concerts, Dippenaar warned us before playing that the Forlie is a noisy Portuguese dance of madness and empty-headedness, where men put on dresses and parade through the streets, carrying each other on their shoulders. The 8 bar chord progression (in a minor key: 1, 5, 1, 7#, 3, 7#, 1, 5.) is immediately recognisable by its Renaissance feel, and can be identified throughout Baroque and Classical music, with variations by JS Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti, Salieri, Beethoven, Liszt, and perhaps most famously in Handel’s Sarabande in D minor. And what a madness it turned out to be! In certainly one of the most dramatic and perfectly suited pieces for harpsichord, this set of variations showcase the instrument at it most impressive. The unified dynamic is often criticised, but I am a defender of the harpsichord, I find the sound quite magical, and I love the way it accentuates the accuracy of the performer’s runs (in Dippenaar’s case – flights) across the keys. To compensate for the dynamics, Dippenaar has become a master of timing, expanding and compressing the phrases and bars, so that the tempo is unchanged, but one has the feeling of acceleration into intensity, and deceleration into cadences.

More about the Forlie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folia

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Franz Benda, Symphony nr 5 in A major
Ah! This orchestra! What a sound! What a feeling to be floated up from the sucking mud of mediocrity, to wiggle ones toes in the cleansing current, and in moments to be set down on firm, solid washed rock, drying off in the warm sun! There is something alchemical about Baroque music in its combination and balancing of simplicity and complexity, like salt and sulphur, to the point where a relatively unknown composer (or monarch!) can apply the principles and formulae, creativity, and improvisation, and achieve the completion of such a thing as a symphony. And there is an overwhelming sense of life and vitality which Tinta Barocca performances achieve surely and squarely. There is a freshness to every performance that I have heard. Truly, Cape Town is very fortunate to have such an orchestra as this, a fluid, undulating line-up of dedicated and specially skilled musicians.

More pictures here:

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Camerata Tinta Barocca returns on
Wednesday 11 November for Haydn’s London Symphony
and
Wednesday 9 December for Handels’ Messiah with the Cape Consort
www.ctbmusic.co.za

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