Last night in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Voices of Music launched its 2016–2017 season with music for the holiday season. The emphasis was on virtuoso concertos by Antonio Vivaldi that featured deft and sparkling solo work by many of the group’s performers. However a concerto by Georg Philipp Telemann was added to the mix, along with a collection of dances from Michael Praetorius’ vast collection entitled Terpsichore. The spirit of the season was captured through a one-on-a-part instrumental rendition of Salamone Rossi’s setting of Psalm 128 as a six-voice a cappella motet; and the entire program was framed by two “pastoral” selections, the final movement from the eighth of the concerti grossi from Arcangelo Corelli Opus 8 collection, usually called the “Christmas” concerto, and Telemann’s “Ouverture a la Pastorelle” (TWV 55:F7).
While most of the concertos were by Vivaldi, Hanneke van Proosdij set the bar for virtuosity immediately after the Corelli “overture” with a thoroughly dazzling account of Telemann’s TWV 51:F1 recorder concerto in F major. While the recorder is often dismissed as a “beginners’” instrument, Telemann’s solo part demanded agility that far surpasses what was expected of any instrumentalists of his time (not to mention those of future centuries). Proosdij glided her way through all of Telemann’s demands, every so often lifting her right leg to flex her knee in a style reminiscent of some of the more memorable rock guitarists.
The least conventional of the selections was probably the Vivaldi RV 564 in D major with solo parts for two violins (Carla Moore and Gabrielle Wunsch) and two cellos (Elisabeth Reed and Tanya Tomkins). This provided a relatively unique opportunity for give-and-take across register extremes, along with a richly thick texture of notes in rapid-fire succession coming from solo, duo, and quartet combinations. Similar low-register virtuoso work could be found in the RV 531 concerto for two cellos in G minor (with the same cellists). The final Vivaldi selection was the RV 565 concerto for two violins and cello in D minor. This was the eleventh of the twelve concertos published as Opus 3, L’estro armonico (the harmonic inspiration). It is also one of the two concertos from that collection that Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed as an organ solo (BWV 596, also in D minor). Moore and Tomkins were again soloists, this time joined by Lisa Grodin. In this case the energy of the concerto emerges from the abrupt tempo shifts across relatively brief movements, and the performance was distinguished by the crispness of the overall account.
The Rossi transcription, on the other hand, was another matter. This was but one sample of the composer’s many efforts to provide Jewish liturgical sources with the same rich musical treatment accorded to the sacred texts of Christianity. The instrumental version translated the six voices into three violin parts (Moore, Grodin, and Maxine Nemerovski), viola (Maria Caswell), and two cellos (Tomkins and Reed), with continuo support from Proosdij on organ and Farley Pearce on violone. While this was an excellent introduction to Rossi’s skills at counterpoint, the absence of the text detracted from the full liturgical impact of his music.
On the other hand the instrumental account of Praetorius’ harmonization of the carol “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (a rose has sprung up) could rely on the familiarity of the music for that same liturgical impact. This served as a prelude to the livelier excerpts from Terpsichore. In this case all the Voices of Music instrumentalists were joined by percussionist Peter Maund alternating between hand drum and tambourine. Maund was particularly skillful in eliciting a broad range of sonorities from both of these instruments, making the performance sound almost as if the percussion instruments were adding their own melodic lines. Maund also contributed to the concluding Telemann pastoral selection, primarily in the movements based on dance forms. This lively approach to the Nativity perfectly complemented the introspective quietude of Corelli’s Pastorale movement that opened the program.