Tempesta di Mare | Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Players

2012–2013 Concert Series: “Great Books”

…Tempesta di Mare’s musicians once again wielded their period instruments with skill and grace, without benefit of a conductor

“Tempesta di Mare devoted its last concert of the season to four examples of Baroque entertainments. Telemann’s orchestral piece, Burlesque de Quixotte, is one of my all-time Baroque favorites. Tempesta’s 20- piece orchestra, complete with woodwinds and percussion, magnified the humor in Telemann’s mock charges and gallops. The Don’s sighs for Dulcinea acquired extra pathos when they were produced by woodwinds instead of strings. Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Charpentier’s The Imaginary Invalid were both court entertainments. Rameau’s ballet music from Pygmalion was a theater ballet based on the story of the sculptor Pygmalion, who falls in a love with a statue that Cupid brings to life— a story that achieved some fame in the 20th Century as My Fair Lady.

The French pieces contain passages that can only be appreciated if you know the story. In The Imaginary Invalid, for example, the hypochondriac sees so many doctors that he receives a medical degree, and Charpentier provides a special Air for Curtsying for the medical personnel who congratulate him.

But most of the suites consist of airs and dances capable of standing alone. The impresarios behind the productions seized every opportunity to introduce crowd-pleasers like Moorish dancers, dancing monkeys and a generous assortment of hornpipes, jigs and rondos.

Tempesta di Mare’s musicians once again wielded their period instruments with skill and grace, without benefit of a conductor. These were all ensemble pieces, with no solo roles, but I especially liked the passages for multiple sopranino recorders and the percussion contributed by Michelle Humphreys. And I was fascinated by the way an orchestra without a single brass instrument somehow managed to create the illusion that trumpets were concealed in its midst.” Broad Street Review, May 14, 2013.

…Although the theme was “Great Books,” only listening, not reading, was required

“Although the theme was “Great Books,” only listening, not reading, was required, as the theme covered several Baroque compositions based in literary works, in this case as diverse as Cervantes and Ovid. The recital opened with perhaps the best-known of the works, Purcell’s suite from The Fairy Queen, written to accompany masques for a 1692 performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Emlyn Ngai’s violin persistently led the string line of the piece to the section’s usual heights throughout. The suite concludes with the Chaconne for the Chinese Man and Woman, which, not surprisingly for music of the period, had no Asian influence to the sound. Interestingly, however, there are a few phrases in it reminiscent of motifs from Handel’s Sarabande from his Suite in D Minor (perhaps better known to some as the theme from Barry Lyndon.)

The Purcell was followed by Telemann’s Burlesque de Quixotte, based on Cervantes’ work. The overture was ushered in with cheerful string and woodwind lines and with nicely evident harpsichord work by Adam Pearl in music that was unmistakably Telemann’s composition. Like the book, Telemann’s music is suffused with humor, particularly in the section in which Quixote awakens—beginning as a pastoral morgenstemning, the drones of his snores come in along with his being shaken awake rudely. Equally amusing were the compositions for Quixote’s horse Rosinante and for Sancho Panza’s donkey; as with other portions of the Burlesque, the percussion by Michelle Humphreys made the intent of the music come to life.

The third piece was Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s incidental music for Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid. Charpentier was a substitute for J-B Lully, with whom Moliere had fallen out; although the music was prepared in time for the comedie-ballet’s opening in 1693, Moliere was struck ill while performing in its fourth performance and then died. The music has no relation to that sorrow, however, and is truly cheerful. The arrangement performed began at the end with hypochondriac Argan’s graduation as a physician, in a quietly triumphant processional, that was followed by the cheerful dance for the upholsterers and seamstresses reminiscent of court dances (perhaps not a surprise as Moliere often wrote parts for the King to play in his productions). These were followed by the “Moorish dancers” pieces, which one would not confuse either with English Morris dances or with any music from the Moorish period in Spain; these dances make no pretense of being anything but French Baroque dance tunes, though they are sprightlier than the upholsterers’ dance.

The final piece in the evening’s program was a suite of Rameau’s ballet music for Ovid’s (most definitely not Shaw’s) Pygmalion, from The Metamorphoses—this being the metamorphosis of a sculptor’s statue into a beautiful woman. The suite contained a “the characters of the dance” sampling the various dance forms which the Graces attempt to teach the living statue, including a charming gavotte and a sarabande. The audience was treated to some notable moments of Baroque guitar as well as to the Ngai-led strings bringing in some very fine melody lines. The violinists were here a delight to watch; audiences tend to forget that orchestral musicians can and do stand to perform, and the string players’ body movement in concert with their bowing was a worthwhile sight for the audience.” Broadway World, May 13, 2013.

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