Over the last three decades, the Festival Music Society’s annual three-weekend Early Music Festival has brought us such amazing recorder players as Horacio Franco, Aldo Abreu and Piers Adams. This early relative of the flute has a rich heritage of music written for it, mostly from the Baroque era (roughly 1600-1750).
Last weekend, FMS musical director Frank Cooper introduced us to yet another performer in this league, Matthias Maute, who headed the Montreal-based Ensemble Caprice in their first-time FMS engagement. They appeared both Friday and Sunday evenings with different programs.
Friday’s was entitled “From Heaven and Hell,” featuring works from the early Baroque, a period much more fixated than ours on the literal Christian view of the afterlife. The Caprice players selected Andrea Falconiero (1585-1656) of Naples — one of the composers quite obsessed with this concept — to dominate their program’s first half. Joining Maute in a potpourri of Falconiero selections dealing with paradise and the inferno were recorder player Sophie Larivière, cellist Susie Napper, harpsichordist/organist Erin Helyard and percussionist Patrick Graham.
It’s become almost needless to say that hearing this music does not conjure for us any heavenish or hellish images whatever. We have to read or be told that it is supposed to. Much of it is fast and rich-textured, perhaps demanding players with better “chops” than the average piece from that period, especially the recorder parts. And most of the program featured both Maute and Larivière as dazzling duo recordists — every bit up to the task.
Integrated into the cluster of Falconiero pieces were some anonymous ones, providing us more empty display and less musical structure. We also heard a harpsichord solo by that maverick composer Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) — the only composer we know about who was also a self-proclaimed murderer (of his wife and her lover, who were in flagrante delicto).
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (ca. 1623-1680) dominated the program’s second half, including a look back by a century to four Recercadas from 1553 by Diego Ortiz. But it was Schmelzer’s Sonata quarta of 1664 that best showcased Maute’s talent for playing lots of notes by himself rapidly and correctly. Only Helyard accompanied on his little positive (posiTEEF) organ.
The Ensemble Caprice’s theme Sunday was “Sturm und Drang — Storm of Passions” and featured late Baroque fare with more familiar composers, such as Telemann, Handel and Vivaldi. The program also introduced countertenor Daniel Taylor, who sang in all the Handel offerings, delivering as high and as pure a voice as any countertenor has provided us in the past.
In fact, Taylor nearly upstaged Maute’s recorder work; yet Maute dazzled once again in Vivaldi’s Concerto in G for flautino and strings. Much of Maute’s playing used the Baroque transverse flute; his duos with Larivière often featured her staying with the recorder, affording us another startling color combination.
The 2008 Early Music Festival will see the return of Red Priest, Great Britain’s outrageously theatrical but consummate group of musicians. Get your tickets early; this one sells out."