Last night in Herbst Theatre the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by Waverley Fund Music Director Nicholas McGegan, gave the fifth subscription concert in its 35th season. The title of the program was Explore Baroque Europe; and it amounted to a grand tour that took in Venice (Giuseppe Tartini), Versailles (Jean-Philippe Rameau), Dresden (Jan Dismas Zelenka and Johann David Heinichen), and London (Thomas Arne). Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock was featured as soloist in Tartini’s D28 concerto in D major, but the entire program was permeated with a delightfully diverse assortment of solo opportunities.
Indeed, the evening was framed by the flute work of Stephen Schultz and Mindy Rosenfeld. They served as a pair of very persistent cuckoos in the opening section of Arne’s overture for a revival performance of John Dryden’s King Arthur (Henry Purcell had provided the music for the original production); and they concluded the selection of dance movements from Rameau’s opera Les Fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour with some of the loopiest hocket exchanges imaginable between piccolos and strings. (This came from a recently discovered fragment in a Rameau manuscript, so the performance was a world premiere. McGegan played it a second time for those who did not believe what they heard the first time.)
Tartini preceded Antonio Vivaldi by about a generation. He was a compelling virtuoso and is best known today for his “Devil’s Trill” sonata. He basically overlapped with another major virtuoso, Pietro Locatelli, but did not travel as much as Locatelli did. Both composers were noted for taking cadenzas that would unleash the full force of their virtuoso capabilities as performers, and Blumenstock took command of Tartini’s virtuoso writing with full technical strength and just the right amount of showy display.
The program also featured two curiosities. Heinichen’s S. 235 concerto in F major featured different solo instruments in its different movements. It also included an Alla Breve movement requiring pizzicato accompaniment in the string section for an extended flute solo played by Schultz with duo accompaniment from Rosenfeld on flute and Hanneke van Proosdij on recorder.
Even more curious was Zelenka’s ZWV 187 concerto grosso entitled “Hipocondrie.” This involved what may have been some of the most outrageous chromatic rhetoric of the Baroque period. The opening movement begins in A major, but it keeps slipping into A minor with chromatic shifts that almost seem to depict illness taking over the body. (See the above autograph of the opening measures.) A similar encounter ensues when an E major fugue is “invaded” by E minor. It would appear that Zelenka was experimenting with programmatic effects in this concerto, and his results have endured with enough strength to continue lifting eyebrows.