Can you imagine sauntering into a Starbucks and hearing a Baroque ensemble playing the best music from that period so long ago? Perhaps you can't, but it does happen in Aspen, Colo., eating places during their summer Aspen Music Festival. But it also occurred in Zimmerman's Coffeehouse in Leipsig a few hundred years ago when weekly concerts were held by the Collegium Musicum. Leipsig's finest would gather to sing and play the heralded works of contemporary masters.
Last Friday, a group of nine instrumentalists calling themselves Harmonious Blacksmith -- named after Handel's well-known excerpt from his Harpsichord Suite No. 5 -- sought to duplicate what might have been heard in Zimmerman's, whose coffeehouse they made their program title. This began the Festival Music Society's final weekend of their 44th straight season presenting early music. As always, FMS artistic director Mark Cudek was on stage a half hour prior, helping the players explain their instruments and the program.
First we had Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto for Strings in B-flat, one of the "red priest's" more interesting works. Using a group of strings without soloists, it recalls Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, with a fast-slow-fast movement order and rapidly executed triplets in the first movement. The playing was crisp and precise -- as was the following Vivaldi work, his Cello Concerto in G, featuring soloist Nika Zlatari. This exemplified more ordinary Vivaldi, being one of hundreds of string concertos coming from his fertile pen.
Next came a Bach transcription of one of his own great instrumental works: the Harpsichord Concerto in F, BWV 1057. It originated as his much-better-known Brandenburg No. 4 in G, BWV 1049, the later work dropping the key a whole step and subbing the harpsichord for two solo violins. The piece also solos two recorders in both versions, and is one of Bach's miracles of counterpoint, exuding a captivating lyricism. Harpsichordist Joseph Gascho provided some of the best nuanced playing heard recently in this series of that plucked keyboard instrument. Recorder players Justin Godoy and Heloise Degrugillier blended their dissimilar-looking instruments to near perfection. Slight intonation problems marred the string work.
Two selections of Georg Philipp Telemann started with one of his best: the Paris Quartet No. 6 in E Minor for violin, theorbo (an oversized lute with a giraffe's neck), recorder and cello. It has the flavor of Bach's B Minor Orchestral Suite, with the recorder replacing Bach's transverse flute. Telemann's Double Concerto for Recorder and Flute (actually a "voice flute," blown straight into), also in E Minor, ended the program. All the soloists played with pizzazz, while the grouped strings again displayed occasional sour pitches.
The Peabody Consort returned to our festival Sunday evening with a most unusual program: Shakespeare and his music, or, as the Peabody chose to title it, "If Musick Be the Food of Love." To aid in this multidisciplined presentation, Indiana Repertory Theatre actors Milicent Wright and Robert Neal provided their services, moving about the Basile Opera Center while projecting the Bard's verses.
Excerpts from Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Henry IV, Hamlet, The Tempest, Othello and The Merchant of Venice were interspersed with concurrent music Shakespeare himself might have selected, supplied by the 12 Peabody performers. Our own Mark Cudek directed the group while occasionally playing a cittern and a drum. Soprano Elizabeth Hungerford proved outstanding among the four singers, while recorder player Andrew Broadwater also greatly impressed. The program showed careful preparation, delighting from start to finish.