2015–2016 Concert Series: “The Nations”
“the model of a top-notch period orchestra,…Tempesta’s brilliant playing made the best case for the rarely played repertoire.”
Chestnut Hill Local
“The unified impact of the orchestral sound was often as full-bodied and full-throttled as that of any chamber orchestra playing on modern instruments, yet here the sound of gut strings and actual wooden woodwinds was one of incredible transparency. One heard, appreciated and loved the inner workings of the counterpoint, yet never did Tempesta’s musicians allow the contrapuntal trees to obscure the forest of the total ensemble.”
“Of the recordings I could find, none came anywhere close to this [concert] performance. …Stone and Roberts came up with ingenious effects to make those images come alive.”
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Tempesta di Mare offers illuminating program for Tropical Bach Festival
“The Miami Bach Society’s Tropical Baroque Festival turned to orchestral music on Thursday night with Tempesta di Mare. The Philadelphia-based Baroque band offered “The Nations,” a program of works by composers who depicted countries they knew only from written accounts and legends.
Unlike many period-instrument groups, the 22-member ensemble consistently produces a highly polished corporate sonority. Their intonation and unanimity is unfailingly precise and the warm and alluring sound of gut strings blended wonderfully with the lighter timbres of Baroque winds. The instruments never sounded raw or harsh.
Although Tempesta di Mare plays without a conductor, concertmaster Emlyn Ngai clearly leads the group, setting the tone and pace of performances. In the up-close acoustic of Miami Beach Community Church, the orchestra’s brilliant playing made the best case for the rarely played repertoire.
The most familiar work of the evening was Georg Philipp Telemann’s Orchestral Suite in B-flat (“Folk Suite”), the program’s opener. The prolific German Baroque master ingeniously depicts Turkish, Swiss, Russian and Portuguese music and dance as well as more formal dances and witty riffs. The ensemble’s incisive string attack and crisp articulation gave the overture plenty of spirit.
A Baroque version of Mozart and Beethoven’s Turkish music with drum and lute adding color featured some spicy dissonance. The divided violins contributed to the charm of the alternate drone and rapid plucking of strings, depicting Swiss revelry. The stately sarabande and brisk and jaunty rigaudon in the Portuguese section demonstrated the ensemble’s keen attention to variegated dynamics and coordinated articulation.
While none of the other composers on the program approached the mastery of Telemann, inventive scores by Matthew Locke and Jan Dismas Zelenka proved diverting. The Englishman Locke was represented by a suite from incidental music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, appropriate for this 400th anniversary year of The Bard’s passing. The rustic dance featured an imitation of country fiddle tunes while the jig had a whiff of John Bull courtliness.
The Czech Zelenka’s Suite in F shows the influences of his travels and performances in Naples, Venice and Vienna. Contrapuntal writing in the overture was assayed smoothly, with the individual instrumental lines clearly audible. Peasant dance infuses an unconventional minuet and finale, filled with unexpected twists of melody and volume.
Francesco Barsanti’s Overture in D for strings with harpsichord trod more conventional Baroque paths, leavened by a bucolic country dance that was played with uninhibited exuberance. Johann Helmich Roman was known as “the Swedish Handel.” His Music for the Drottningholm Palace, created for a royal wedding, is replete with pomp and ceremony.
Special kudos to concertmaster Ngai, the hard-working percussionist Michelle Humphreys, harpsichordist Adam Pearl and the group’s co-directors Gwyn Roberts (superb on flute and recorder) and Richard Stone (a consistently elegant lutenist). Tempesta di Mare is the model of a top-notch period orchestra, presenting unusual repertoire in first rate performances. They should return soon and play some of these musicological excavations for Miami audiences. Miami Herald, March 7, 2016
“… one of the most entertaining concerts of the season…”
“The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill was the site of one of the most entertaining concerts of the season Sunday, March 6. Heard within the peerless acoustics of its sanctuary, Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, performed “The Nations: Orchestral Portraits of the Peoples of Europe” to a virtual full house.
The program featured Telemann’s “Folk Suite” in B-flat, selections from Locke’s Music for Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest,” Zelenka’s Orchestral Suite in F, Barsanti’s Overture in D, and selections from Roman’s “Music for Drottningholm Palace,” the Swedish royal residence.
The hallmarks of the performances given all five scores was the breadth and depth of the playing. The full ensemble brought an amplitude of sound to every moment, yet never was the tone unvaried or unarticulated. The unified impact of the totality of the orchestral sound was often as full-bodied and full-throttled as that of any chamber orchestra playing on modern instruments, yet here the sound of gut strings and actual wooden woodwinds was one of incredible transparency. One heard, appreciated and loved the inner workings of the counterpoint, yet never did Tempesta’s musicians allow the contrapuntal trees to obscure the forest of the total ensemble.
Telemann’s mastery of character delineation was given its due while Locke’s early baroque spontaneity was made concise and focused. Zelenka’s virtuoso writing was meticulously projected while the shimmering beauty of Barsanti’s string writing was eloquently phrased. Best of all was the rendition given the music Johan Helmich Roman composed for a royal Swedish wedding – grandly celebratory and majestically festive. Here the playing was both intricate and sweeping.” Chestnut Hill Local, March 10, 2016
“Of the three recordings I could find, none came anywhere close to this [concert] performance.”
Well, it’s a good thing the Social Justice Warrior brigade didn’t find out about Tempesta di Mare’s concerts last weekend.
The program, titled “The Nations” and heard Saturday evening at the American Philosophical Society, dealt in some dastardly ethnic stereotypes. Well, so the SJWs might say. In fact, it was easy to shake off any moral concerns because those caricatures are now 300 years old and hardly recognizable to us in 2016, so the excellent program notes and witty spoken introduction by Tempesta directors Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone were key to letting us in on the jokes.
While Bohemia, England, Scotland, and Sweden were all in the house (sets of dances by, respectively, Jan Dismas Zelenka, John Locke, Francesco Barsanti, and Johan Helmich Roman) the main source of said jokes was a suite by Georg Philipp Telemann with the modern nickname Völker-Ouverture – translated as “Folk Suite” but perhaps better rendered as “suite of the peoples.”
The Swiss got the worst of it: Telemann depicted them not as efficient, chocolate-loving bankers, but as big, dumb drunks with music boxes. The Portuguese got the formal, slightly exotic strains of a sarabande (a stately triple-time dance originally from the New World); the Turks an aggressive, martial sound (Tempesta adding woodwinds and tambourine for that janissary band touch). Most innovative was the movement for the Russians (“Muscovites”): swirling violins atop a three-note bass figure meant to depict the unique sound of Moscow’s church bells. The suite ended with a pair of movements contrasting “runners” with “boiteux” – the lame, people who limp. (Telemann also was making fun of the disabled.)
Tempesta’s colorful, entertaining rendition of all this was all the more impressive because the score is poker-faced in its plainness, with no hints of humor other than the movement titles. (Of the three recordings I could find of the Völker-Ouverture, none came anywhere close to this performance.) Stone and Roberts researched the stereotypes that 18th-century Germans and French held about their fellow Europeans and came up with ingenious effects to make those images come alive: plucked strings for the Swiss music boxes and wildly out-of-tune scratching for their inebriation; percussive bow strokes for Moscow’s bells; a solemn drum beat for the Portuguese dance; and galumphing accents for those poor hobblers.” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 2016
Tempesta di Mare The Nations: a Saturday night treat
When I was plodding my way through the 10th grade, I entered a national short story contest and one of the judges wrote that my entry lacked a raison d’être. Fortunately, the teacher who had encouraged this adventure happened to be the French teacher. She quickly cleared up my puzzlement and I acquired one of the half dozen French phrases I can still comprehend.
There are many “reasons for being” that can be used to justify the existence of a piece of art. It can express profound emotions or deeply spiritual feelings. It can give us a better understanding of other people or of our own feelings. Some people will even be content if it’s just beautiful.
The music Tempesta di Mare played at its latest concert didn’t meet any of those lofty standards. Its sole reason for being was the fact that it happened to be thoroughly enjoyable. The theme for the evening was “The Nations, orchestral portraits of the peoples of Europe.” It’s an organizing principle that would have looked familiar to most 18th-century composers and music enthusiasts. Baroque composers regularly turned out suites of national dances like the Telemann “Folk Suite” that opened the program.
The Telemann included Turkish music, a stirring evocation of the bells of Moscow, and a comic evocation of tipsiness that represented the alleged Swiss fondness for alcohol. The other four pieces on the program roamed the continent and presented similar material. The enjoyments that paraded across the small stage at the American Philosophical Society included country fiddling; a suite by an Italian composer who lived in Edinburgh that reflected his affection for Scottish music; and a suite by a Bohemian composer that featured the Czech rhythms and harmonies Dvorak and his colleagues exploited in a later period.
The finale was a selection of music written for the celebrations surrounding the wedding of Frederick the Great’s sister and the heir to the Swedish throne. Tempesta’s selections captured some of the pomp and ceremony, complete with percussion, and included a slow movement with a broad melody that sounded like it would make a great national anthem for some deserving country. If your resources include a court orchestra with a court composer like Johan Helmich Roman, you can commission a pièce d’occasion people can enjoy two centuries after the occasion.It was all played with vigorous tempos in the fast movements and a solid understanding of the underlying structures that support lively, varied surfaces.
Good cooks selected good recipes, and their customers received a Saturday night treat. Broad Street Review, March 15, 2016