“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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“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
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
“The blend between Tempesta and Piffaro was special indeed.”
“Did a tour bus suddenly let out in front of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul around the same time as its Friday Christmas concert? No, the line stretching down the windswept block was leading to the first joint concert by Tempesta di Mare, Piffaro, and Choral Arts Philadelphia. No doubt their combined mailing lists helped bring together a large crowd for three weekend concerts, plus an ambitious program titled “Advent Vespers, Dresden 1619.”
Because Vespers services tend to be assembled rather than composed from whole cloth, much leeway is possible, allowing the three collaborating ensembles to come up with a varied but stylistically coherent cross-section of music heard at that time and place, mainly Heinrich Schutz, Michael Praetorius, and Samuel Scheidt.
When the concert got down to business with weighty works such as Praetorius’ Magnificat and Schutz’s settings of Psalms 110 and 128 – going beyond chants and hymns that can tax any concert’s pacing – doors opened onto a rich, singular musical world. Schutz drew on any number of gestures (certain kinds of quicksilver rhythm) that originally sprang from the more operatic mind of Monteverdi, with German hymns and chorales as the compositional floor plan. Often in this repertoire, the exterior elements are about formal liturgical functions, but the music transcends that when the inner voices of the vocal writing and the middle sections of the psalm settings slip into more personal expression that tells you how life truly felt in that era.
Antiphonal effects between Piffaro and Tempesta worked particularly well in the acoustical expanse of the Cathedral Basilica. Adding voices to a space with such generous reverberation time created so much sound (even though Choral Arts had just 12 voices – handpicked ones) that the massed ensembles started to cancel out one another. At times, I wondered if I was hearing only 70 percent of the music – disappointing in a repertoire full of fine-cut details.
Periodically, conductor Matthew Glandorf (who also played organ) turned to the audience in an invitation to sing along with the hymns, with music printed in the program. Nice touch, though I felt too distant amid the acoustical expanse to participate. Many of these elements had a chance of correcting themselves in the later performances at venues in Chestnut Hill and Wilmington. I just hope that any disappointment that may have been felt at this concert on Friday won’t stop these groups from collaborating again. The blend between Tempesta and Piffaro was special indeed.” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 22, 2015
“This performance revealed the splendor and ethereal beauty of the Vespers, as well as the magic and excitement of bringing a reconstructed chapter of music history to life.”
“The Liturgy of the Hours, the recitation of certain prayers at fixed times of the day, is one of the oldest forms of Christian spirituality. Vespers the most ancient of these “offices” set a liturgy of prayer and music against the shadow of sunset.
In the 17th Century, Christmas vespers was a festive affair, featuring popular hymns, large groups of singers and instrumentalists in the cathedral. The concert recreated Christmas vespers as it might have sounded under the direction of Lutheran composer and organist Michael Praetorius in 17th Century Germany. The performance featured the 13 voices of Choral Arts Philadelphia and replicas of Renaissance instruments — including dulcians, theorbos, sackbuts, recorders, shawm and violone — provided by Piffaro and Tempesta di Mare. The concert marked the first collaboration among the three performing organizations.
Christmas in Germany: Dresden Vespers 1619 delivered musical splendor in the old and lush tradition. Featuring music by Praetorius, Heinrich Schutz and Samuel Scheidt — three prominent composers of the early 17th Century Dresden court — the program followed the traditional order of the Vespers service, taking the audience through the expectations, solemn reflections and joys of the Advent season.
The beauty of this program lay in the contrast between the simple and the complex. The simple element is the Lutheran hymn tunes that underlie all this music. Choral Arts Philadelphia sang a few hymns in the traditional Lutheran setting. Most of the program, though, featured the complex element: These tunes woven into intricate counterpoint and often decorated with breathtaking ornamentation.
Praetorius was the featured composer on the program. His music straddles an interesting period of old-fashioned Renaissance music and new-fashion Baroque. Because of his position in Ecclesiastical circles — a committed Christian who regretted not taking Holy Orders — he did not write opera or concertos. Yet, he did learn a great deal from the new Italian style and his music is replete with virtuoso singing, echo effects and the use of instruments.
The audience heard his unique settings of such familiar tunes as Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme as well as his less familiar Magnificat super Ut re mi fa sol la, based on the simple melodic motif of six ascending notes of the scale. The offerings from the other composers feature antiphonal writing. Scheidt’s version of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland and Duo Seraphim and Schutz’ setting of Psalm 128 show the influences of the Venetian polychoral tradition.
This performance revealed the splendor and ethereal beauty of the Vespers, as well as the magic and excitement of bringing a reconstructed chapter of music history to life.” Delaware Arts Info, December 26, 2015
“The intermingling of voices and two types of instruments produced a warm jewel that continually exposed new facets.”
“Piffaro and Tempesta di Mare are both early music organizations but they operate in different worlds. Piffaro plays the music and instruments of the Renaissance (roughly 1400-1600). Tempesta di Mare plays the instruments and music of the Baroque (roughly 1600-1750).
In spite of that gap in instruments and styles, they managed to team up with Choral Arts Philadelphia for a three-way collaboration that brought out the best in all three organizations. Piffaro’s instruments added new colors to Tempesta’s, Tempesta’s added new colors to Piffaro’s, and the 13 early music pros fromChoral Arts added a third spectrum to the palette.
Some Christmas music soars. Some bounces. This event mostly featured music that glows. The intermingling of voices and two types of instruments produced a warm jewel that continually exposed new facets.
When was the last time you heard a violin-trombone trio? One of the most striking — and poetic — passages in the entire concert was an interlude in which Tempesta’s concertmaster, Emlyn Ngai, interacted with Piffaro’s two sackbut players, Adam Bregman and Greg Ingles. (The older form of the trombone, the sackbut, is a bit mellower than its modern descendant.)
The three organizations made a critical decision when they decided to base the program on Advent music played at the royal chapel in Leipzig in 1619 — a date on the cusp between the Renaissance and the Baroque. Europeans didn’t yell “Yippee, we’re in a new musical period!” and switch to harpsichords and Baroque violins on New Year’s Eve 1600. The boundaries between periods are fuzzy zones and there’s always some overlap.
The three master composers featured on the program all straddled the line dividing the periods. Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) is usually associated with the Renaissance, while Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) and Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) are usually considered Baroque composers. All three composed for the royal chapel around 1619.
Praetorius may have been the senior citizen in the triumvirate, but he contributed two of the most effective works on the program. The finale for the first half was a setting of Awake the watchman’s voices call in which his music captured the rush and excitement of a big announcement racing through a community. The main event in the second half was a Magnificat in which he seemed to give every line a different musical treatment, each calling for a new combination of voices and instruments.
Piffaro’s co-directors, Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken, share a valuable trait with Matthew Glandorf, the director of Choral Arts: They all like to present concerts that place the music on the program in its historical context. This concert followed the general pattern of a 17th-century Lutheran church service, complete with two sections in which the audience joined in a Lutheran chorale. As Wiemken pointed out, the addition of responses by the congregation was one of Luther’s major reforms.
The Friday night performance of this concert took place at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. When the music on the program was composed, the ancestors of modern Euro-Americans were killing each other over issues like the role of the laity in the church service. Today a group of musicians can stage a simulation of a Lutheran service in a Catholic cathedral and we can all listen to it, because the music transcends the furies of the age that produced it. There’s an appropriate holiday message in that, but it’s so obvious it doesn’t need to be spelled out.” Broad Street Review, December 30, 2015
“A perfect matching of text and sound … instrumentalists dazzled with agility …“
“When Tempesta di Mare explores music’s past, it reminds listeners that the future has a lot to learn from it. This time, the baroque music ensemble uncovered Parisian favorites Saturday at Friends Meeting in Old City. In that unadorned setting, the five instrumentalists and soprano Rosa Lamoreaux offered elegantly ornamented singing and dances and a glimpse into the serious musical bases for aristocratic entertainment.
Is it art or is it entertainment? Paris had no problem with that question. Only 21st-century audiences grapple with it, muttering when principal guest conductor Stéphane Denève calls on his tradition to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in popular fare. The French had a word for it: musique.
The ensemble celebrated the arrival of coffee as a late 17th-century craze. The soprano floated through Nicolas Bernier’s Le Café, a series of recitatives and arias praising the new drink as superior to wine and possibly better than anything served by the gods. Musically, it was a textbook of orderly harmonic progress, varied meters, theatrical gestures, and perfect matching of text and sound. Musically, it couldn’t have been tastier, for it blended wit and sonority, ironic comment with musical devices to burnish that irony. That Lamoreaux sang while raising a coffee cup at significant moments only furthered the message that art and entertainment can go hand in hand.
After instrumentalists had dazzled with agility in Jacques Morel’s Chacone en Trio, the soprano continued the course from light to serious with Couperin’s 3 Airs serieux. Serious, of course, means love, and she touched shadings of pain and joy with her richly colored voice and pointed articulation.
The darkness of entertainment came in Thomas-Louis Bourgeois’ cantata Phedre et Hypolitte, a boldly colored recollection of godly infidelities, Phedre’s husband’s death, and her suicide. Lamoreaux ranged from poignant love to bucolic recollection to savage anger and projected death, finding an apt color for each emotion and treating the musical line with respect. These entertainments taught moral lessons – or conveyed court gossip – with instrumental gestures and the singer’s stylish presentation. She was joined by Gwyn Roberts, flute; Emlyn Ngai, violin; Lisa Terry, gamba; Richard Stone, theorbo; and Adam Pearl, harpsichord. The clouds of sonority they built were formed with precise articulation and dramatic flair.” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 27, 2015
“Tempesta di Mare played with gusto … It was lovely to hear the period instruments”
“’Vengan las flores, el jazmín y la rosa,
la azucena, que a Juno, suprema deidad
del Olimpo, consagra del orbe
la más noble reina.’
(Bring forth the flowers, the jasmine and rose,
the white lily, dedicated by the world to Juno,
supreme goddess of Olympus,
the most noble queen.)
Sings Dido in the baroque zarzuela “Destinos vencen finezas” (Destiny Trumps your Vows), by Lorenzo de las Llamosas (Perú) and Juan Francisco de Navas (Spain). This bucolic aria, full of nature, describes the effect of each flower: jasmine, rose, carnation and the white lily. A far cry from the familiar aria “When I am Laid on Earth”, which occurs at the end of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, before Dido’s suicide. It is also quite different from the romanzas of the more familiar romantic zarzuela, which comes into full bloom in the late 19 and the early 20th century. Tempesta di mare includes a rendition of this zarzuela in its concert (sung by mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano) within a Western European baroque context. The concert, “Purcell, Charpentier and ¡zarzuela!” was presented at the Perelmann Hall in the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia on Saturday, March 7 at 8:00 pm. This baroque orchestra is to be commended for finding this piece, last performed in Madrid in 1699, and featuring it in this venue. Spanish music is slowly becoming more main stream in the United States in classical musical circles, but has been usually programmed alone as an anomaly, or alongside Latin American art music. Considering the era, this baroque zarzuela has more in common with baroque music from other European countries, than it does with later “romantic” zarzuelas and other well known Spanish pieces. The poetry in the baroque zarzuela is based on classical themes: gods and legends of antiquity, rather than folklore, local and national politics, and every day events. Two baroque zarzuelas that have been performed recently in staged productions are La púrpura de la rosa and Viento es la dicha de amor.
The regional dialects and dances of Spain, so prominent in the zarzuela grande and género chico are missing from Destinos. After 1492, with Castile and Aragón united, Granada conquered, and the Catholic Monarchs on a quest for exploration and expansion, it took some time before composers would insert strong and obvious reflections of regional identities. Flamenco, so employed in the work of Spain’s most famous musical son, Manuel de Falla, is not yet much of a factor in 1699. Although the Roma had settled in Iberia by the time this zarzuela was composed, the flamenco music was not heard much outside of Roma communities until the 1800s. On Saturday, Destinos vencen finezas, the final piece of the program, was sung by one singer, even though there are multiple characters in it. It is short and the singer handled the music well, so this concept worked. Ms. Montalbano took much care to differentiate the characters in her expression and acting. Her pronunciation did not include the [θ] for c and z, which was how people spoke in 1699 in Madrid. The librettist was Peruvian, so perhaps that entered into the pronunciation choice. She sang with conviction in baroque style and vocally was very consistent. The work has a lot of musical texture, created by the different instrumental parts, and the vocal line was part of that weave. I did miss a fuller and more multi-colored vocalism, but some would consider that inappropriate in baroque style. It was clear that Ms. Montalbano was passionate about this music and enjoyed performing it.
Tempesta di mare played with gusto during the zarzuela and the other selections, without a conductor waving a baton. Also characteristic of the baroque practice is that some of the instrumentalists play standing: violins, violas and winds. It was lovely to hear the period instruments including: the baroque recorders, harpsichord, viola da gamba, baroque guitars, violone and theorbos. Castanets were used in the zarzuela and additional percussion in other pieces.
Without the internet, this performance of Destinos vencen finezas, would likely have never taken place. They found the piece via internet and for centuries the score has languished in the National Library in Spain. This particular zarzuela has been written about in literary and theatrical studies, but how many scholars actually had any idea what it sounded like? (Even if they could read music, they probably were not musically trained enough to hear the orchestra, the full effect, in their inner ear). Over three hundred years after its debut, a new audience, new musicians, thousands of miles from Spain, experienced this discovery of an old work in Philadelphia.” Deslumbrar, March 10, 2015
“Tempesta di Mare … brought verve, grace, and spark to music that … always benefited from it.”
“Performing incidental music from a movie or play in concert can be a gamble: Will a score never meant to engage the audience on its own hold the stage by itself?
Tempesta di Mare played its hand deftly on Saturday night at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, bringing verve, grace, and spark to music that wasn’t always worthy of such treatment but did always benefit from it.
The first half of the program was music heard in London theaters in the decades on each side of 1700. The stately overture and lively dances Henry Purcell wrote for Congreve’s farce The Double Dealer came off well, never overstaying their welcome; a zesty hornpipe featuring two recorders was a particular delight.
Next came four brief concertos of the sort pit bands played between acts. One composer whose music was popular for that purpose was Arcangelo Corelli; the piece performed here, Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 10, wasn’t nearly as captivating, although concertmaster Emlyn Ngai improvised some delightful flourishes during the central slow movement. The similar Sinfonia di concerto grosso No. 5 by Alessandro Scarlatti had more substance, as well as some of the little surprises this composer liked to stash in his scores.
The real treat was Concerto No. 5 for two recorders and strings by the all-but-forgotten Englishman William Babell, with soloists Gwyn Roberts and Aik Shin Tan dispatching their parts with more charisma and elegance than you’d think was possible from those simple little pipes you blew into in third-grade music class.
After the intermission came the set that seemed most promising: excerpts from the score that the great 17th-century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote for Molière’s comedy Le Malade imaginaire. The selections’ titles were promisingly odd: pieces for dancing upholsterers, surgeons, pharmacists, and (in a later scene) Moors. Yet the music itself seemed no more whimsical or exotic than any other French Baroque dances – and, in truth, by that point I’d heard enough of music that was never intended to be the primary focus of our attention.
Just in time, the evening became an entirely different concert, and Tempesta di Mare became an entirely different band – one for zarzuela, Spain’s equivalent of operetta or Rodgers & Hammerstein. Out came the drums and castanets and claves; the music cooked, swung, and sashayed in fabulous estilo español.
These treats were songs for Roman gods from Destinos vencen finezas, a retelling of the story of Dido and Aeneas composed by Juan Francisco de Navas for a royal wedding in 1698 and performed here for possibly the first time since. Mezzo Maren Montalbano seemed not quite fully comfortable with her boy-voice for Cupid, but as Venus and Juno, she was pure, suave, and sensuous, delivering rapid-fire Spanish with rhythmic flair and high spirits.” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 2015
“Tempesta played with such energy and color that the wit, emotion, and drolleries that continue to define French art were brought to pulsing life.”
“A little wordplay in its title set the tone for Tempesta di Mare’s exploration of late French baroque tone painting in its concert Saturday at the Perelman Theater. The ensemble, ending a season-long study of French bases for much of European music, called its final thrust “Elements.” That pointed to the fundament on which much music rests,but also to Parisian delight in portraying fire, earth, air, and water.
Just how prophetic the composers were was summarized in the first chord of Jean-Fery Rebel’s Les Elements. To portray chaos, Rebel’s orchestra played a jam of a full octave, an effect like that of pounding a forearm on the keyboard. No Rebel, no Ives, the ensemble was arguing.
But lest this seem a history lesson or charting of trends, Tempesta played with such energy and color that the wit, emotion, and drolleries that continue to define French art were brought to pulsing life. It also gave listeners with the advantage of three-century hindsight ample chance to hear modern composers’ evolving use of orchestral devices piquant in the 17th- and 18th-century salons.
In its elemental journey, the ensemble played music from Marin Marais’ opera Alcyone (including a tempest), and Telemann’s Hamburger Ebb und Fluth, a forerunner of Handel’s Water Music and other river celebrations. Instrumentation invited images of lapping flames, surging tides, the whisper of air, and some bumpy landings on Earth. Audiences were in for exciting, sensual travel in those days.
Implicit in the writing was the available virtuosity of the performers. To portray air, Rebel wrote for violin delicacy scarcely weightier than air itself. Marais’ “Tempest” gathered clouds, thunder, and lightning. The basses were expected to execute as rapidly as the violins. Telemann offered a north German view of storms, gentle winds, and surging tide – all using the relatively soft-voiced baroque strings and winds.
Notable in all this was concertmaster Emlyn Ngai’s eloquent precision. In baroque style, he led the orchestra in every sense, providing decoration, power, and feathery bowing to give these works clarity and theatricality. Within the ensemble, the six wind players multiplied the colors the composers sought. Ensemble founder and codirector Gwyn Roberts led the trio of flutes and recorders in the varied displays of brilliant passagework and soulful song. Bassoonist Anna Marsh, a sturdy voice throughout, had starring parts in the Rebel music. With oboists Debra Nagy and Stephen Bard, this wind group found shadings and splashes to sharpen the tone painting going on in the strings.
This was the ensemble’s second concert in the Perelman, which proved helpful in preserving the detail and color this music demands. The character of the two theorbos (one played by codirector Richard Stone) emerged clearly, and the subtle thumps of the drums in Marais and Telemann added witty comment to the music’s aspirations. The playing celebrated all the elements.” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2014
“… a perfect ending for Tempesta’s season.”
“The suites taken from music composed for Baroque operas, ballets, and plays contain some of the most charming music in the Baroque repertoire. For its second appearance at the Perelman Theater, the Tempesta di Mare Baroque Orchestra presented two pieces of theater music in a theater roughly the same size as the theaters that 18th-century composers had in mind when they penned their opuses. The program’s third item was a piece d’occasion that evoked such theatrical subjects as frolicking boat people and amorous sea gods.
The three pieces were tied together by their musical depictions of the classic four elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Marin Marais’s 1706 opera Alcyone exposes its characters to the perils of the sea. Telemann’s 1736 “Hamburg Ebb and Flow” celebrated the 100th anniversary of the sea forces that guarded Hamburg’s maritime trade. Jean-Frey Rebel’s 1737 ballet Les Elements depicted the emergence of the elements from chaos— a very modern subject, even though our current worldview includes a different, somewhat larger set of elements.
The charming quality of this music is no accident. It was created for productions that were meant to divert and entertain. Alcyone includes a march for sailors and a happy jig, even though Marais called the opera a tragédie en musique (it ends with the heroine killing herself because her fiancée died at sea). Like most 18th and 19th century opera composers, Marais didn’t waste an opportunity for a lively musical bit.
It’s also music that must be played on the Baroque instruments that Tempesta prefers. Modern strings would have sounded too smooth. Modern woodwinds would have sounded too brilliant.
Tempesta fielded a full Baroque orchestra— Baroque winds and strings, recorders, Baroque flutes and oboes, a Baroque bassoon, some small-scale percussion, and a harpsichord reinforced by the long-necked lute played by co-director Richard Stone. In the Marais work, the violins were divided into three sections, instead of the two used nowadays, and the violas into two. The extra voices created a more complex texture, but they must have increased the demands on the musicians— especially since they were playing Baroque style, without a conductor.
The second half opened with one of the most striking introductions any composer has ever imagined, before or since. Rebel opened Les Elements with a huge blast of sound, representing chaos, that sounded like it had been composed for a Hitchcock film. He created this startling, unexpectedly chilling effect by sounding all seven notes of the D minor scale at once. All the basic building blocks of music slam into the audience simultaneously, clashing and harmonizing with no attempt at organization. It’s a musical conception that sounds just as contemporary as our modern scientific picture of the simplest elements emerging from the chaos that followed the Big Bang.
In any group of suites taken from theatrical productions, one or two pieces are bound to seem draggy without the singing and dancing that originally accompanied them. In Baroque suites, the sections are so short that you can sit through a dull spot secure in the knowledge that something new will come along very soon. The three suites in this concert included 30 sections. The forms included lively dances like the gavotte and the canarie, slower dances like the sarabande, and complex forms like the chaconne.
The orchestration added more variety. High violins represented fire. Flutes and recorders played bird songs. Winds and strings played against each other in inventive combinations.
In addition to her work with tambourine, castanets, and a small drum, percussionist Michelle Humphreys created the tempest in Alcyone by rolling a long decorated cloth across a hand-cranked cylinder. I don’t know if that’s an authentic Baroque instrument, but it definitely created authentic wind sounds.
For the encore, Tempesta repeated a section of Los Elements that summed up the evening’s best features— the tambourine movement that represents water. As the cellos and basses maintained the steady beat of the tambourine theme, racing passages on high violins and flutes alternated with memorable solos for Anna Marsh’s Baroque bassoon. It was a perfect evocation of a flowing river, rushing through narrows and slowing in broader areas, and a perfect ending for Tempesta’s season.
Like most local chamber and early music groups, Tempesta di Mare usually plays in venues like the Arch Street Meeting House, where it holds most of its concerts nowadays. Churches and Quaker meetinghouses make perfectly satisfactory concert halls, but appearances in the Kimmel Center expose Philadelphia musical organizations to a larger local audience. Tempesta di Mare has achieved a worldwide reputation with its recordings and tours, but it isn’t as well known in Philadelphia as it should be— even though it carefully tells the world it is the Tempesta di Mare Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra. Co-director Gwyn Roberts added a welcome touch to this concert when she announced that Tempesta will return to the Perelman next season.” Broad Street Review, June 10, 2014
“The ensemble’s rendering of the superb opening ‘Le Chaos’ description is brilliant, full of energy and commitment, and the rest of the work – especially the lovely Loure & Chaconne movement – goes just as well.” Amazon Review
“Philadelphia-based baroque music ensemble Tempesta di Mare is a great band and I will be looking out for the second volume in this set. Tempesta di Mare’s detailed and rhythmically precise performances are superbly executed.” MusicWeb International
“The enterprising Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Tempesta di Mare … The tempos are well chosen – dignified in the overtures and marches, lilting and swaggering in the airs and dances – and the command of dynamics and ornamentation are superb throughout.” Grammophone
“The playing from this top band is all very good – sample the Rebel Chaconne if you need re-assurance.” Early Music Review
“One is immediately struck by the recording which is stunning in its realism and presence. Based in Philadelphia, Tempesta di Mare is a conductorless Baroque orchestra comprising around 28 players. Their historically informed approach is stylish, their intonation, articulation and ensemble above reproach. It’s reassuring to know that the English and Europeans don’t have a monopoly on world class period ensembles. There is so much happening right here under our noses, with groups like Tempesta di Mare firmly in the vanguard. Volume 2 is eagerly awaited.” Amazon Review]]>
“★★★★ … eight predictable sonatas elevated by characterful performance on various recorders/flute, assorted continuo adding colour. Neglected music which charms as much today as when composed in 1724.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2014
“… delightfully expressive playing”
“No, not Henry Mancini - Francesco Mancini, so no Pink Panthers to be found here. This is a substantial collection of sonatas published in London in 1724 and further evidence of the fashion for Italian music in the English capital in the days of King George I and George Frederic Handel. Each consisting of four movements, these Sonatas follow the model established by Corelli. They have plenty of Neapolitan influence, with minor-key slow movement moods and the kind of vocal melodic style which would have been familiar to opera audiences of the time.
The musicians of Tempesta di Mare have been recording this kind of repertoire for many years, and you may have come across their Lute Concerti of Silvius Leopold Weiss, orchestral music of Johann Friedrich Fasch or cantatas and chamber music of Alessandro Scarlatti. Mancini’s Solos for a flute may not shake your world to its foundations, but there is good fun to be had in the variety brought to the instrumentation in these performances. The final Allegro spicatto of Sonata IV has quite a swinging pizzicato from the cello for instance, the contrast between recorder and traverso between Sonata X and Sonata XII is subtle but distinctive, and the gentler plucking of a theorbo over a small organ gives the more percussive sound of the harpsichord a rest in Sonata XI. I’m more a fan of the traverso than the recorder, but Gwyn Roberts’s delightfully expressive playing convinces on both traverso and recorder. If you are wondering what a ‘voice flute’ is then it is same as a recorder both in looks and sound, though larger - the name apparently referring to its range, which is comparable to that of a soprano singer. The Chandos recording is up to the usual very high standard, with masses of detail and a nice sense of space and atmosphere. Booklet notes by Guido Olivieri are very good and supplied in English, German and French. There aren’t many discs of Francesco Mancini’s music around, though there are a few competitors, such as Tripla Concordia on the Brilliant Classics label (see review) which has all 12 recorder sonatas but a less appealing vibrato from the recorder player. This selection from Tempesta di Mare is a very nice way to fill a gap in anyone’s collection.” MusicWeb International
“★★★★ (Excellent Album)” Musica magazine (Italy), March 2015
“Back in [issue] 34:4 and then again in 36:4, I reviewed recordings of Bach’s trio sonatas for organ in other instrumental arrangements: the first time for a Baroque string trio and harpsichord (the Brook Street Band), the second time for varied ensembles of two to five instruments (Florilegium). This latest release by Philadelphia’s resident Baroque orchestra, Tempesta di Mare, is directly competitive with the latter, utilizing anywhere from two to six performers in a given sonata. As I have discussed the issues involved in such arrangements in those prior reviews, I will forego repetition of that this time.
How do the performances compare? Both sets of arrangements are effective, and both ensembles play superbly; you can’t go wrong with either one, and should delight in having both. However, there is a clear difference in interpretive approach, in a case where timings do tell the story. With only one exception (the opening Allegro of BWV 529), Florilegium takes a faster tempo than Tempesta in every fast movement, and a slower tempo in every slow movement. Thus, Florilegium lays a stress on contrasts, whereas Tempesta emphasizes continuity. While Florilegium’s interpretive profile happens to appeal more to my personal taste, that is a purely subjective judgment; certainly, I would not want to forego the exceptionally fine recorder playing of Gwyn Roberts and the nimble finger-work of Adam Pearl at the harpsichord for Tempesta (especially since illness prevented me from attending the concert from which these recordings derived). As always, Chandos lavishes on Tempesta its trademark rich recorded sound; exemplary and detailed booklet notes, artist bios, and table of contents; and multiple photos. In sum, Tempesta and Chandos have added another winning entry to their ongoing series; long may it thrive! Heartily recommended.” Fanfare, November/December 2014
“It’s an enjoyable and instructive set … the slow movement of No 4 being worth the price of admission on its own.” Gramophone
“… The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players present these works in a variety of combinations made by member Richard Stone, who also performs. The instruments include recorder, baroque flute,violin, viola, cello, viola da gamba, lute and harpsichord. The sound is warm and resonant, and the larger ensembles give this music a warmer feel… ” American Record Guide, May/June 2015
“… performed with a nuanced sensitivity that immediately reveals the appeal of the music; … highly recommended.”
“The latest release from the renowned Philadelphia chamber orchestra Tempesta di Mare features six trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. These sonatas, BWV 525-30, were originally written for organ, likely as pedagogical tools or practice pieces for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann. They were still fashionable in the late 18th century; according to one of Bach’s sons, they were written in the kind of galant style that would assure their perpetual popularity. The trios are not typical sonatas; the play between the soloist(s) and the larger ensemble and their shorter overall structure is more reminiscent of the ‘sonata in concerto style,’ a subgenre with which Bach and some of his contemporaries experimented. Lutenist Richard Stone has re-orchestrated them for a variety of chamber ensembles. As Bach and company themselves did in numerous other situations, Stone has not only chosen different orchestration for each sonata but also transposed the sonata to suit the ensemble and occasionally doubled a part or even added a new line, as was the custom of Bach’s time.
In musical terms, the galant style is characterized by simplicity, elegance, and instantly recognizable charm. Tempesta di Mare has the style down pat. The ensemble performs with a nuanced sensitivity that immediately reveals the appeal of the music. The playing is energetic and purposeful, and the warm acoustic of the recording is lovely. Stone did a wonderful job with the orchestrations, which fantastically show off the diversity of the ensemble. A noticeable standout is the fourth sonata, scored here for the less common combination of lute and harpsichord, and the multitude of textures that shine forth in Sonata V are delightful. Highly recommended. ” Early Music America, Winter 2014.
“… At times organists will barely recognize this music, but there’s no harm in that. Music of such supreme genius can withstand being looked at from a wholly new perspective, and when played with such conviction as here, questions of authenticity seem wholly irrelevant.” International Record Review, July/August 2014