Broad Street Review
Tempesta di Mare’s latest concert was a little gift from the 18th century: two hours of music from an era when composers routinely produced work meant to be heard for the sheer pleasure of it. Tempesta celebrated its 15th season and its directors, Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone, picked compositions that suited the occasion.
You could hear that commitment to pleasure in the first notes of the opening piece, an overture for double orchestra by Johann Gottlieb Janitsch. There were no brasses on stage but woodwinds and strings created a graceful trumpeting sound. The rest of the piece was primarily an engaging dialogue between a violin and flute section on the left side of the stage and violins and oboes on the right.
The program’s second item supported the ancient truth that you don’t have to be a nice guy to make audiences happy. According to Roberts and Stone’s scholarly, highly readable program notes, Johann Sigismund Kusser had a “volatile temper” that kept him moving from job to job and country to country. Kusser’s professional skills would get him off to a good start at each new post, but every relationship ended in a “spectacular blowup.”
Kusser might have been a pain to work with, but his music didn’t reflect his personality disorders. His overture from a collection titled Apollo at Play was an entertaining procession of dances and airs with a driving rouser in the section labeled “Les Furies.” One of its biggest attractions was the percussion work supplied by Michelle Humphreys. The snare drum and tambourines she played are less dominating than modern drums, but they emphasized the beat in dance segments, added color in other sections, and generally supported the overture’s rustic atmosphere.
Baroque orchestra music tends to be written for strings and winds, but Tempesta’s concerts always feel livelier when Humphreys contributes to some of the pieces. In the Rameau suite that ended the concert, there was a particularly nice moment for percussion and recorder, a combination you will encounter in no other musical genre.
Like Piffaro, Philadelphia’s other period-instrument group, Tempesta di Mare’s musicians often play more than one instrument. Priscilla Herreid plays principal oboe but joined Gwyn Roberts and Héloise Degrugillier in the recorder section during Kusser’s opus. The chirping of three recorders created another sound unique to Baroque period-instrument music. Roberts and Degrugillier, in turn, doubled on the wooden Baroque flute.
The centerpiece of the evening was Vivaldi’s “Spring” concerto from The Four Seasons. Tempesta has devoted most of its concerts this season to Vivaldi’s best-known work, playing one concerto at each concert and surrounding it with works that place the concerto in its stylistic milieu. Tempesta’s musicians carried off effects like the shepherd’s barking dog with style, and concertmaster Emlyn Ngai played the solo violin role with his customary aplomb.
One of Tempesta’s virtues is that you can usually hear the unique voice of each section, rather than an undifferentiated blend. It was a particularly important quality in the finale, a Rameau ballet suite. When the bass surged, you heard it rising through the sounds created by the other sections; that surge wasn’t lost in a unified mass.
Roberts and Stone have created a long-lived organization and enhanced the national and international reputation of our city. Anyone who looks into the economics of the arts knows that’s an achievement and demands a major commitment.
Chestnut Hill Local
“The program and its rendition went a long way to explaining the ensemble’s success.”
“The finest playing of the evening was heard after intermission in the Vivaldi and Rameau scores. Concertmaster Emlyn Ngai was a stunning soloist in the former, and the whole band was onstage to conjure up images of Rameau’s 1748 ballet. The playing in both works was characterized by the traits that have brought Tempesta di Mare to the zenith of baroque period ensembles.”
Chestnut Hill Local
“Perhaps the most flawless work heard Sunday afternoon was C.P.E. Bach’s Rondo in D minor for solo harpsichord, part of Bella’s collection. It’s an imaginative yet fully structured score that’s effervescent in mood. It received a stellar performance by harpsichordist Adam Pearl. A fellow alumnus of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and a faculty member there, Pearl employed a gentle yet expressive rubato that manipulated the tempo through subtle shifts of faster and slower speeds. He placed the shorter motifs with the context of the larger phrases and shaped them with a supple give-and-take that gave them an appealing air of spontaneity.”
“The program’s most interesting work was Johann Went’s arrangement for flute, violin, viola and cello of the Overture and three arias from Mozart’s German-language opera, “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” (“The Abduction from the Seraglio”)… Flutist Gwyn Roberts, violinist Emlyn Ngai, violist Karina Schmitz and cellist Lisa Terry invested their playing with all the theatrical vitality of a staged production without sacrificing the intimacy of chamber music.”
“Of equal delight was Quantz’s Quartet in E minor featuring Roberts, Ngai, Schmitz on second violin, Richard Stone on lute and Pearl on harpsichord. Divided into three concise movements, it’s a forward-looking score in which harmonic progressions assume an equal footing with counterpoint. As a keyboard player, myself, I heard with appreciative satisfaction Pearl propel the music’s development from the harpsichord.”
Broad Street Review
“Tempesta di Mare’s concerts combine musicianship with impressive scholarship, and this program was a prime example. Tempesta’s co-director, Richard Stone, has visited the Sara Levy collection over the years and copied scores by hand. The opening number was a Bach organ piece for three voices that can be arranged for a number of instrumental combinations; Stone arranged it as an elegant dialogue between two violins, accompanied by his lute.”
“The finale was an interesting jump to a different musical and emotional world… Fanny’s musicales exposed Mozart to Bach, Handel, and counterpoint, but Fanny was interested in new music, too. Her collection included an instrumental transcription of tunes from Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, and the concert ended with a happy visit to the high-spirited theatrical music developing in Vienna, complete with a hymn to Bacchus.”
Chestnut Hill Local
“Of course, it didn’t hurt to hear as the soloist in the “Winter” Concerto Tempesta’s incomparable concertmaster, Emlyn Ngai. He played the dizzying pyrotechnical passages with spellbinding prowess and the lyrical second movement with eloquent phrasing.”
“All the same, my favorite part of the evening occurred at the very start, when the full complement of players gave a memorable rendition of Arcangelo Corelli’s sublime Concerto grosso “per la notte di Natale” (for the night of the Nativity)… Tempesta’s players played the score with touching intimacy and stylish panache. Noteworthy standouts were Gwyn Roberts & Heloise Degrugillier on recorders and Adam Pearl at the harpsichord.”
Broad Street Review
“The Corelli received a performance that was a prime example of the irreplaceable virtues of live concerts. ”
“Concertmaster Emlyn Ngai earned a big ovation for his dazzling displays in the solo role of the Vivaldi. He did it, as always, with a cool focus on his work, sans extraneous mugging or prancing; his hands said everything.”
“Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a great piece, but when you can hear it anywhere from public radio pledge drives to train stations, how do you make it interesting? By taking it apart and showing how it’s put together. That’s what Tempesta di Mare is doing for its 15th anniversary season, which opened Saturday evening at the American Philosophical Society. ”
“When it came to playing the concerto through, Tempesta gave an ebullient reading with a rustic buzz to the string tone. Violinist Emlyn Ngai’s command of timing and rhetoric was excellent.“
Chestnut Hill Local
“Tempesta is currently offering the finest renditions of the baroque repertoire available to local music lovers.”
“They produced a sumptuous overall orchestral sound in which phrases were lyrically shaped, dynamics were stunningly terraced between soft and loud, balances between the full tutti and the smaller concertino were immaculately maintained, and Ngai proffered dazzling pyrotechnical solo playing that evoked an autumnal festival in the countryside.”
“Roberts and Degrugillier switched to recorders as the soloists in Francesco Maria Veracini’s ‘Overture VI in G minor.’ Both soloists projected high, shimmering tones that stunningly stood out against the backdrop of dramatic swells of dynamics…”
Broad Street Review
“If the other programs on the schedule are as good as the first one, Tempesta’s audience can look forward to an enjoyable season. Tempesta’s Baroque instruments captured all the rustic hunting-and-harvestfest quality of the Vivaldi.”
“Krull and the Tempesta di Mare musicians produced an unbroken intensity that turned Medea’s rage into a non-stop 18th-century ride of the Valkyries.”
“Smart, period-instrument performances…the playing always had a polished, plump sound…“
Chestnut Hill Local
“What made Handel’s mastery all the more apparent was the splendid performance the score received from the 20-member ensemble Tempesta di Mare fielded on the Perelman’s stage. Concertmaster Emlyn Ngai led the strings with both a firm yet sensitive hand while harpsichordist Adam Pearl and theorbist Stone provided the foundation for the flutes and oboes to proffer their piquant charms. The playing of Roberts on flute and Stephen Bard on oboe was especially noteworthy for its sensuous lyricism.”
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George Frideric Handel made a cameo appearance in the 1994 film Farinelli, and was about the only presence that wasn’t ridiculously romanticized. He swept in and out – irate, impatient, imposing, and fully aware of his superiority to his peers.
That image came to mind Saturday during Tempesta di Mare’s Saturday concert Handel & His Frenemies at the Kimmel Center: Smart, period-instrument performances put his music next to often-referenced but rarely heard composers such as Thomas Arne, Maurice Greene, and John Pepusch with unexpected benefits.
The real-life Handel fought a duel with a fellow harpsichordist, went broke periodically, had nervous breakdowns, endured divas ripping at each other’s clothes onstage, but maintained a consistent output that drew on any musical resource in reach. Helpful but un-opinionated program notes by co-directors Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone left room for listeners to ponder the concert’s implications.
Young Handel performed operas by Reinhard Keiser, whose engaging “Concerto in D” had loose-cannon tendencies (like those stark, stabbing gestures) that seemed to re-surface in Handel’s “Il Pastor Fido” suite (heard later in the concert) though integrated into the music’s fabric in ways that made better musical sense.
In Arne’s “Symphony in D” and Giovanni Bononcini’s “Cello Concerto in F” (with soloist Lisa Terry in tentative form), two out of four movements were worth hearing. Pepusch’s overture to The Begger’s Opera was fascinating for what it wasn’t. Though the opera famously turned the tide away from Handel’s Italian-language operas, the overture started by sounding vaguely Handelian but headed down a self-consciously simplistic road with Anglo-tinged tunes that sound like shrewd marketing rather than anything artistic.
So was Handel an Everest amid foothills? Often. Handel did everything well, but unlike Bach, not equally well. Handel’s “Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 3” was charming but short-winded and a bit generic. But the lesser-known “Il Pastor Fido” suite (drawn from the opera’s dance movements) was a tour de force, each having a sound world of its own. Daringly spare passages had only two flutes and four violins. Or an oboe duet accompanied only by cello and theorbo with tension-generating cross rhythms. The opera’s scenario was flimsy, but Handel seemed more fully engaged by it.
And so was Tempesta. Though the playing always had a polished, plump sound, “Il Pastor Fido” was more incisive with a deeper sense of what the music says. Considering how the Perelman Theater was decked out in microphones, one can hope this concert will join Tempesta’s other recordings on the Chandos label. Philadelphia Inquirer, May 23, 2016
Chestnut Hill’s favorite baroque instruments ensemble, Tempesta di Mare, brought its 2015-16 season of concerts to a delightful finale Saturday, May 21, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. The program was entitled “Handel & His Frenemies” and focused on that “other” titan of the Baroque style.
If George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) shared not just an era but also a year-of-birth with any other composer than Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), he would be regarded as a classical music genius whose only equal would be Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). With the possible exceptions of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, Handel would have no peers. But then there’s J.S. Bach – and no one else. Bach’s music achieves a level of technical mastery, consummate artistry and spiritual profundity that places it in a realm occupied by no other composer.
And yet, Bach’s supremacy in no way diminishes the sublime beauty of Handel’s music. His Italian-language operas are among the most ravishing scores ever composed, his instrumental music is among the most idiomatic ever written, and his oratorios – most obviously “Messiah” – are among the greatest artistic triumphs in any and all genres. It should never be forgotten that when, on his deathbed, Beethoven was given by a student the gift of the recently published works of Handel, he remarked, “He is a master from whom we can all still learn.” And whose music we can all still enjoy.
Tempesta artistic co-directors Gwyn Roberts & Richard Stone wisely chose to conclude each half of Saturday’s concert with a work by Handel, himself: the Concerto Grosso in E minor, Opus 6, no. 3, to end the first half, and the Suite from the opera, “Il Pastor Fido” (The Faithful Shepherd), to bring the entire concert to a close.
It was in the Suite that Saturday evening’s audience heard Handel at his best. His supreme gift for melody, his inventive yet sensitive use of harmony, his exquisite employment of embellishments, his nearly impressionistic talent for orchestration and giving the perfectly chosen instrument the role of projecting each eloquent motif, and his rock-solid command over form and structure were all on display throughout the Suite’s 11 movements. In its own way, this Suite is every bit as much as flawless masterpiece as is any of the Six “Brandenburg” Concerti of Bach – different, of course, but equal.
What made Handel’s mastery all the more apparent was the splendid performance the score received from the 20-member ensemble Tempesta di Mare fielded on the Perelman’s stage. Concertmaster Emlyn Ngai led the strings with both a firm yet sensitive hand while harpsichordist Adam Pearl and theorbist Stone provided the foundation for the flutes and oboes to proffer their piquant charms. The playing of Roberts on flute and Stephen Bard on oboe was especially noteworthy for its sensuous lyricism.
The Concerto Grosso in E minor as well as works by contemporaries Reinhard Keiser, Giovanni Bononcini, Maurice Greene, John Pepusch and Thomas Arne were also given expert renditions, but it was the playing of the Suite that most impressed me Saturday evening – and that sparked my fond memories of the Sunday afternoon concerts in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square by members of the former Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia. They were once among the highlights of the local classical music season. Perhaps Tempesta can bring them back. Chestnut Hill Local, May 26, 2016
The program notes that accompanied the latest Tempesta di Mare concert didn’t contain any comments on the music. The notes for this event were a chronicle of personal relationships and interesting anecdotes. Tempesta’s audience learned, for example, that George Frederick Handel fought a sword duel with another musician when he was 18 years old. Handel and his colleague got into a quarrel in an opera pit where they were both working as harpsichordists. They battled after the show but nobody was hurt; Handel’s adversary claimed they became better friends after the fight.
The notes didn’t tell you anything about the music because they didn’t need to do so. The seven selections on the program were all theater and concert pieces written by composers who wanted to attract cash customers in 18th Century London and Germany.
You don’t need a musicologist to tell you you’re going to like the sound of wooden Baroque flutes playing over 18th Century string instruments that are gentler and more nasal than modern strings. No one has to tell you “what to listen for” when you’re listening to music like the rolling polonaise in a Handel suite or the wind sonorities and sturdy English rhythms in an overture by Thomas Arne.
Tempesta dubbed this program “Handel and his Frenemies.” The selections were written by Handel and five composers who were his friends and rivals, often simultaneously.
Giovanni Bononcini was a cellist and composer who wrote operas for Handel’s opera company. His operas were so popular they were the main reason the company stayed solvent. Handel and Bononcini became embroiled in a political clash in spite of their close business association, because the Tories took up Handel and the Whigs supported Bononcini.
No matter. Bononcini’s Cello Concerto in F is an appealing piece. Tempesta’s principal cellist, Lisa Terry, reinforced its appeal with a reading that gave it some of the scale and intimacy of a guitar performance.
The most entertaining piece on the program for me was John Pepusch’s overture to The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay’s jibe at Italian opera. The overture starts, cheekily, with a speeded up, higher pitched version of the somber chords that open most 18th Century overtures. The popular tunes that follow let you know you’re hearing the prelude to a musical about highwaymen and bawds, not the legendary heroes and mythological figures that populated Italian opera.
Pepusch and Handel were friends and colleagues but The Beggar’s Opera truncated Handel’s career as an opera composer. He eventually turned to English language oratorios such as Messiah and earned a permanent place in the heart of the English public.
Tempesta di Mare’s concerts in the Perelman theatre are a rare opportunity to hear 18th-century theater music in a theater that’s roughly the size of the theaters for which it was written. Tempesta itself is one of the few organizations in the country that can take advantage of such a facility and present period instrument concerts with a full-size Baroque orchestra, and it is one of only five such orchestras in the United States. Broad Street Review, May 24, 2016
“Gwyn Roberts played three beautiful examples of the excitements and pleasures that recorder players can produce when they’ve worked their way into the top ranks of their profession.”
“Stone gave it a performance worthy of my memories, with the lute providing an exhilarating first movement, a dreamy visit to another world in the slow movement, and a final allegro packed with rustic drive. The small forces kept the accompaniment in perfect balance with the solo instrument.”
“Baroque composers… wouldn’t have objected to a little fooling around with the continuo, and I think we can take it for granted they would have been quite happy with the level of musicianship the Tempesta Six bestowed on their music.”
Chestnut Hill Local
“All seven scores comprising Tempesta’s program were played superbly. Gwyn Roberts on recorder, Emlyn Ngai & Karina Schmitz on violins, Lisa Terry on cello, Richard Stone on lute & guitar and Adam Pearl on organ all played with consummate musicality and commanding technique. Stone was heard to especial advantage during the concert’s second half on a beautifully decorated baroque guitar.”
Tempesta di Mare does Venice and Naples
Pleasures of the recorder and lute
Most people nowadays probably think of the recorder as a children’s instrument. Schoolchildren can learn to play simple tunes on it fairly quickly and start piping away while young violinists and flutists are still trying to coax a decent sound out of their instruments. But in the Baroque era, the recorder was the standard flute for much of the period. Baroque composers created a library of recorder concertos and sonatas that demand virtuoso performers.
The Italian name for the recorder is il flauto dolci — the sweet flute — but that sweetness requires tight control of tone and volume when you’re playing solo lines created by composers like Scarlatti and Vivaldi.
At Tempesta di Mare’s latest outing, co-director Gwyn Roberts played three beautiful examples of the excitements and pleasures that recorder players can produce when they’ve worked their way into the top ranks of their profession. I’ve followed her career for more than 25 years, and you could hear those decades of development in every note she played. In the opening item on the program, Vivaldi’s La Notte, Roberts captured a gamut of nighttime emotions, from frenzied fear to relief at the coming of the day. When the birds sang to the sunrise at the end, I heard the birds and saw the morning.
Roberts and her co-director, lute player Richard Stone, have assembled a full Baroque orchestra, with brass and percussion, but Tempesta di Mare’s season schedule includes recitals and chamber music concerts as well. This concert sampled chamber music from two Italian musical capitals, Venice and Naples. The eight pieces on the program were a one-to-a-part showcase for six of Tempesta’s principal players.
Stone’s big solo was one of the established hits of the Baroque repertoire: Vivaldi’s exuberant Lute Concerto in D. In his remarks before he launched into the concerto, Stone said it was the piece that attracted him to classical music when he was a child. I can understand that. A recording of the concerto clinched my growing interest in Baroque music.
I responded to the fast outer movements the first time I heard it. Stone says it was the beautiful inner movement that “did it” for him. He was obviously a more sensitive listener (at a much younger age), but we both seem to have reached the same judgment. Movement by movement, the concerto is one of the best things Vivaldi ever wrote.
Stone gave it a performance worthy of my memories, with the lute providing an exhilarating first movement, a dreamy visit to another world in the slow movement, and a final allegro packed with rustic drive. The small forces kept the accompaniment in perfect balance with the solo instrument.
The two violinists in the sextet, Emlyn Ngai and Karen Schmidt, mostly played ensemble roles, but they generated a sonorous field of sound that permeated the whole program. They provided much of the rustic atmosphere in the final movement of the lute concerto, and there was a memorable interlude, in another piece, when the spotlight focused on the recorder’s interactions with Karen Schmidt’s violin.
Lisa Terry and Adam Pearl supplied the indispensable basso continuo — the combination of bass line and chords that formed the rhythmic and harmonic foundation of Baroque music. Terry provided the bass line on her cello, as she usually does, and Pearl played a small organ, instead of the harpsichord that he usually plays. The organ is a perfectly acceptable continuo instrument, and it added a touch of dramatic flair in the appropriate places.
Richard Stone reinforced the continuo on the lute and added to the variety by switching to the small Baroque guitar for the last four pieces. Baroque composers had sound commercial instincts; their published works usually advised potential customers that a piece could be played on a variety of instrumental combinations, depending on what you happened to have on hand. They wouldn’t have objected to a little fooling around with the continuo, and I think we can take it for granted they would have been quite happy with the level of musicianship the Tempesta Six bestowed on their music. Broad Street Review, April 26, 2016]]>
“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