Shakespeare. It’s a family name. A famous name. All around the world, people think immediately of William Shakespeare. Thousands of people can claim a Shakespeare in their family tree. We had the pleasure on Sunday afternoon, January 12, 2020, of listening to a fine chamber ensemble led by one such descendant: Nicholas McGegan. The Carmel Music Society invited us to Sunset Center in Carmel to hear Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players with Sherezade Panthaki, soprano. This was part of a tour during McGegan’s Farewell Season as Music Director of Philharmonia Baroque. Since I particularly enjoy productions of Shakespeare’s plays where music is added between acts, or as part of the action, I was curious what music McGegan had chosen especially because we were not to hear the words of any of the plays.
The music was presented in two sections: Shakespeare under the Stuarts, 17th century compositions, and Shakespeare under the Georgians, 18th century compositions. In the ninety minutes allotted we were treated to seventeen selections performed by just fifteen musicians. Some were lovely chamber works led by McGegan sitting at the harpsichord. We also heard Overtures by Jeremiah Clarke and J. C. Smith; Curtain Tunes by Henry Purcell and Matthew Locke; Dances by Charles Dibdin and a Suite by James Paisible. Sung by Ms. Panthaki were songs used as incidental music for plays such as The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It and Titus Andronicus. There was even an encore of a dance from As You Like It complete with stomps the musicians added while playing. All of the performers created music with great skill and care. Most of the musicians were playing instruments designed specifically for Baroque music. This included a Baroque guitar used in lieu of the Theorbo for a number of the pieces. This meticulous choice of instruments made the concert that much more delightful.
I was particularly taken with how well the ensemble played together. There was the gracious give and take between soloist and accompanist with the subtle gestures of the conductor giving the musicians permission to create magic. There were many passages with voice and instrument in dialogue or snippets of duets. I have to agree with the comment I overheard, “So much Yes!” True to the dramatic works connected with the music, there were texts of humor and sadness, melodies evoking scenes of nature and toe-tapping lilting dances. McGegan gave us a few thoughts on the music, relating stories of festivals rained-out and quotations of a review written of the first performance of a Curtain tune. It was clear the ensemble enjoys playing together and enjoyed the music. They were generous with smiles, nods, and gentle applause for each other. It felt almost as if we were invited to a private party they were throwing for each other. I enjoy a good quotation from the Bard, but after this concert, I will also be hearing a melody.