By Philippa Kiraly
The fall concert season starts with a flurry this year, seemingly in a hurry to get going immediately after Labor Day. The Seattle Symphony has three Beethoven and Wine concerts this week and a gala on Saturday, Cappella Romana gives its first season performance Saturday, and the Early Music Guild got in first with one of its First Tuesday series, the I-90 Collective performing at Trinity Parish Church.
The audience was surprisingly good for an early Tuesday in September and, with its excellent acoustics, the Trinity Parish Hall is becoming known as a fine place to perform.
The four musicians, soprano Linda Tsatsanis, baroque violinist Carrie Krause, baroque cellist Nathan Whittaker and lutenist John Lenti, performed at the side of the hall instead of on the stage, with chairs placed in an arc around them. It made perhaps for a more intimate setting, but in the process lost sight lines, a shame as the musicians are always worth watching.
The group, so called as all of the members live along I-90, chose music from the 16th to 18th centuries, the earliest work being by the rarely performed Mazzocchi who was represented by a florid aria, “Sdegno, campion audace,” and the latest by Handel and Bach. Well-designed and lively, the program alternated between arias and instrumental works, many of which showcased one or another of the instruments.
There is so much music from these centuries which is well worth a hearing and several works are not well-known, even the two gorgeous Handel arias on this program, which added to the pleasure of the concert. Others, such as Purcell’s aria “O let me weep,” from “The Faerie Queen,” are known, and this was one of the highlights of the evening. Tsatsanis brought out its inherent passion, anguish and devastation to great effect.
It was also a pleasure to hear a couple of movements from Handel’s Sonata in F Major played with a freedom and expressiveness rare today even in early music performance by bigger groups.
Schmelzer, who was just a generation behind Monteverdi and a couple before Vivaldi, wrote a violin sonata on the song of the cuckoo, (“Cucu”) representing many such works of the time. In Krause’s fine performance one could not only hear the cuckoo clearly but also its environment including what sounded like furious storms and their gentle aftermath.
Early music congnoscenti, of which there are many in this city, are used to hearing performances of international caliber by some of the most famous performers in the business. Some of these may have been disappointed that this group was not quite up to that level.
Yes, there were things to quibble with. Tsatsanis’ big soprano sometimes overwhelmed the instruments, though her lovely voice, purity of tone and dramatic sensibilities perfectly suited the musical style first used by the Italians in the early 17th century of extreme emotion portrayed with stretched rhythms, coruscating runs, and wild dynamic differences.
Krause is a consummate baroque violinist. From where I was sitting,I had the impression that she used different bows for the early and later parts of the program which would make it easier for her to use just the right style of playing. I felt only that sometimes she used more bow than necessary which at times interrupted the dynamics, but otherwise her playing was sheer pleasure.
There’s no doubt that Whattaker knows the style and has the technique, but while I have often appreciated him as a continuo player in performances by Seattle Baroque, here I felt his tone here too often sounded as though there was too much rosin on the strings, his bow skidding over them, a kind of frog-in-the-throat equivalent sound.
Lenti played both lute and theorbo—the bigger instrument with sympathetic strings and a deeper sound—and his playing left nothing to be desired. It was at all times an exquisite accompaniment or grounding to the rest, while his brief solo by Castaldi was a perfect essay in contemplation.
Al in all, however, it was delightful to come in from summer activites of worrying about ripening tomatoes or enjoying late light evenings on the deck to begin what looks like a varied season of interesting concert-going for all music lovers.