By Philippa Kiraly
Some years ago, the Early Music Guild advertised a part time position for Marketing and Development, and ended up hiring a young woman named Kris Kwapis. Not coincidentally, she also happens to be one of the continent’s best performers on Baroque trumpet and in demand for concerts, as well as being a teacher at Indiana University and now also in the new early music program at Cornish College of the Arts. It’s our good fortune to have her here.
Saturday night, the Early Music Guild audience had a chance to hear her perform several trumpet concerti with Seattle Baroque Orchestra at Town Hall, in a program titled Sound the Trumpet.
The well-designed program included late 17th to very early 18th century works by Purcell, Biber and Torelli, plus a lesser known composer contemporary with them, Gottfried Finger: well designed, because these composers are quite different from each other, especially Biber, a composer who marched to his own drummer.
The trumpet works were carefully spaced out with other works in between, and even the concerti had sections or whole movements where the trumpet did not play. Watching Kwapis, it seemed clear that a Baroque trumpeter needs downtime to allow the lip to rest. She used two trumpets, one in C, one in D. These are long slim trumpets with no valves and one or one and a half loops of tubing, only a few holes with which Kwapis could alter tone. All the extraordinary range of notes and runs she elicited from her instruments came from how she used her lips and air flow.
The results were amazing for us, who rarely get to hear a Baroque trumpet and hardly ever as a featured instrument rather than as the obbligato accompaniment in a “Messiah” aria. Kwapis’ sound soared and sang, sometimes ringing out, sometimes gentle and always musically phrased.
She performed the Sonata for trumpet, strings and continuo by Purcell, another in C by Finger, Sonata X by Biber with a different arrangement of strings, and a Sinfonia in D by Torelli. She made them all sound technically easy from the highest to lowest notes despite a few slightly scratchy moments.
The orchestra itself was in fine shape, performing with 12 string players plus harpsichord in such diverse works as Purcell’s lively Suite from “The Fairy Queen,” and Biber’s Serenade titled “The Watchman’s Call,” where the chaconne movement is entirely played on plucked strings and a watchman, bass-baritone David Stutz, strolled across the back of the stage and around the hall calling the hour in song and “All’s safe and all’s well.” Biber had a special affinity for the middle voices. In this work, he uses four violins and four violas, which with the lower strings give weight to the lower middle range, while both Biber sonatas performed had extra violas, again changing the dynamic.
Finger’s “Divisions on a Ground” showcased concertmaster and SBO music director Ingrid Matthews playing solo in increasingly florid variations accompanied only by continuo cellist Nathan Whittaker and lutenist John Lenti.
The whole made for a varied, lively and engaging evening, with a big and enthusiastic audience. Let’s hope Kwapis makes more solo appearances here.