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Virtuoso Baroque

Banchetto Musicale, Jordan Hall, October 4. Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.

Banchetto Musicale opened their season at Jordan Hall Friday night with an enjoyable evening of "virtuoso Baroque" music.

The program opened with Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, with soloist Christopher Krueger on the Baroque flute. Although this instrument sounded like a modern flute, it seemed to have a smaller dynamic range.

The overture was played too fast, and the orchestra went way too far on the one-bar crescendo-diminuendos, creating an undulating effect uncommonly reminiscent of a difficult boat ride. This overture is the most intricate movement of the suite, almost as long as the other movements combined, and when played quickly its lush contrapuntal complexity is not easily absorbed.

The other movements were quite good, although the undulations returned briefly in the Sarabande. Krueger played with excellent articulation and attack. He slipped an octave once or twice and showed little dynamic range, but this may be attributable to Banchetto's policy of using "authentic" instruments. He handled the virtuoso passages with dexterity and grace. My only quibble is that in the Polonaise the ornamentations were not quite on-beat and sounded forced.

The orchestra and soloist coordinated well in the middle movements, but not the first and last. The final Badinerie is best played in as lively a manner as possible; it is one of the gayest pieces ever written in a minor key. Here the requisite abandonment was not there, although it still sounded good.

The next piece was a curious cantata by Handel, Agrippina condotta a morire (Agrippina led to her death). Written while the young Handel was in Italy, it is a dramatic monologue in which the mother of the Emperor Nero curses her ungrateful son and despairs because he has ordered her death. Also composed during this period was his opera Agrippina, inspired by the same character.

Soprano Sharon Baker did a marvelous job with this difficult piece, going convincingly from fury to despair to resignation. She sang with real feeling, and her facial expressions were also very good. The accompaniment was unobtrusive but just right. Handel's technical mastery is already evident here, and the Arioso in the middle of the piece gives hints of his later grandeur.

Bach's great D minor harpsichord concerto was originally written as a violin concerto, but that version is now lost. Undeterred, Banchetto violinist Daniel Stepner reworked the piece for violin, basing the solo violin part on the harpsichord part and adding notes to the orchestra to make up for the replacement of the polyphonic harpsichord by the violin.

When a musician reworks a masterpiece, the seams often show. It is a tribute to Stepner that in this case it is impossible to tell that the whole work was not written by Bach.

The performance equalled the quality of the adaptation. The soloist and orchestra both played beautifully. Stepner wrote himself a virtuoso part and played it almost perfectly. His timing, dynamics, and phrasing were irreproachable, although in spots his tone sounded a little thin. The orchestra showed great coordination and drive. The third movement, especially, was excellent in most places and sublime in the rest.

The final work of the evening was The Elements, a suite by Jean-Ferry Rebel (1666-1747). I must confess I had not heard of Rebel before the concert, and thought he was the token "modern" composer sneaked in between the good ones. Although Rebel predates both Bach and Handel, The Elements is a strikingly daring and modern-sounding piece.

It depicts the creation of the World, and the first movement, Chaos, begins with shocking (especially to a Baroque audience) dissonances, which gradually resolve as the elements (air, earth, water, and fire, of course) emerge one by one. The later movements, which treat the elements individually, are interesting and enjoyable.

The piece was a nice dessert to an evening which provided an auspicious opening for Banchetto's fall season.

Joseph Shipman->