Carmel Bach Festival: A Century of Venice

On July 17, at All Saints’ Church in Carmel, an afternoon audience was treated to a showcase of the proliferation of musical creativity that took place in Venice in the 17th century. Two violinists, two violists, one cellist (all five using baroque bows), a lutist, and a harpsichordist/organist played Baroque sonatas in various configurations among themselves.

All hands were on deck for Johann Rosenmüller’s Sonata Decima à 5 in F Major, a festive work with which to begin the concert. It offered several dances in varying meters with fugal counterpoint, interspersed with more rubato passages with solo voices

Giovanni Battista Fontana’s faintly melancholy Sonata Seconda a violino solo featured a violin soloist accompanied by our in-house basso continuo, which consisted of warmly grazing lute arpeggiations and organ chords cozy enough to sleep upon. There was an improvisatory air to the sonata, not just with the violin’s occasional spurts of virtuosic intensity, but also with the rather loose tempo pervading the whole piece.

Everyone joined in for Antonio Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in A Major, which was more of a four-part suite, comprising of a Preludio, Adagio, Allegro, and Corrente. The jovial Preludio only lasted for 16 measures or so, before entering the much slower and more introspective Adagio. The Allegro featured, like Rosenmüller’s earlier sonata, a trading of solo and ensemble passages, with fleeting moments of romanticism, and in the Corrente, the left hand of the harpsichord doubling the cello gave a nice, bouncy mattress for the violins to jump and play on.

Domenico Gabrelli’s Ricercar for Violoncello solo was, for me, the most stunning work performed at the concert. This ricercar was a dramatic exposition of the cello’s vast range. Each musical idea or phrase was separated into a musical cell, giving the impression that each of these phrases was a passionate outpouring, which required an interval of rest between them. At one point, near the end, the passion grew so intense that several chords seemed to explode out of the cello. This was easily the most memorable piece that was heard this afternoon.

Biagio Marini’s “Passacaglia from his Sonata á tre, however, was my favorite piece in the concert, not only for the bittersweet Picardy thirds, but also the roving bass line—not steady, like in most passacaglias, but modulating into different keys at times. I might call Marini’s composing humorous, if he were a modern 20th-century composer instead of a Baroque one, where there is a mock ending of sorts. A perfect fifth is held for a while, giving the semblance of the final cadence, but after a brief pause, all of the sudden we entered an unrelated key and after a few bars, ended on a different major chord. I found this piece to be the most emotionally intense piece on the program.

There was a second sonata played this afternoon by Rosenmüller, Sonata Ottava à 5 in E Minor, which began with a noble, English-sounding melody, but later unfolded into a more sentimental Venetian mood after a short time, where the tempo was determined not by a metronomic beat, but by the musicians’ shrugs and bows. This one, too, involves interplay between song and dance, with sporadic references to the original theme.

The final work on the program was Dario Castello’s Sonata Decima Quinta à 4, which was a slow dance with rich harmonies and counterpoint abounding. This sonata, too, would frequently jump into different styles at a moment’s notice.

This concert served to remind me that I was fond of Baroque music and ought to listen to more of it. Across the board, it seems the selected composers on this program knew well how to balance palatability with interest perfectly. Of course, it’s also worth applauding the stylistic interpretations that the musicians employed this afternoon. To that, innumerable kudos are owed. The Carmel Bach Festival has warmed my heart and rekindled an interest I might not have fostered otherwise.

End

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