Early Music America’s contribution to this year’s Bloomington Early Music Festival came to an end with three concerts on Saturday, two in the afternoon fulfilling the promise of introducing collegiate ensembles purveying the best in early music performance, one in the evening featuring remarkably gifted artists invading today’s concert halls to exhibit their talents.
In the afternoon
Case Western Reserve University’s Baroque Chamber Ensemble — a collective of seven instrumentalists and three singers keenly directed by Julie Andrijeski — continued the festival’s focus on French music, offering two works of space and substance: Francois Couperin’s “La Piemontoise” from “Les Nations” and “Pyrame et Thisbe,” a cantata by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair.
The Couperin is a chamber work for four (here, violinists Alan Choo and Guillermo Salas Suarez, cellist Eva Lymenstull and harpsichordist Michael Quinn) that received, as needed, a muscular and energetic reading which might be described as historically attuned jam session. Any sleepy listener would have been aroused.
The cantata retells the mythological tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, lovers doomed in life to be misguided into suicides but, thanks to relenting gods, reunited in death as embracing parts of nature. The lovers, in the Pignolet score, are given their measures of arias and duets, accomplished nicely by soprano Sarah Coffman and tenor Nathan Dougherty. The most extensive role, however, was that of the narrator who weaves the story; it was powerfully performed by bass Daniel Fridley, he of a thrillingly deep and beefy voice and dramatic bent. Ensemble members Alice Culin-Ellison (violin), Sophie Benn (cello), and Peter Bennett (harpsichord) furnished the instrumental backdrop in supportive fashion.
Program number two on Saturday afternoon brought a visit from the University of Southern California Collegium Workshop and its director, Adam Knight Gilbert. They offered “O virgo splendens: Devotional Music of Iberia,” music from the 13th, 14th and early 17th centuries of mostly a devotional nature. The program was intended to emphasize the continuity of this music and did.
One heard music of highly emotional quality, passionate in expression whether dolorous or exuberant, full-bodied vocally or whining, concerned with mortality and the hereafter or matters romantic. Over an hour or more, the music cast a hypnotic spell that carried the listener along embroiled in a whirlwind of song.
The collegium’s singers were superb: three women who could switch their instrumens from pure to coarse (Maria Hernandez, Rachelle Romero and Marylin Winkle) and countertenor Jae Hwan Kim. Several of the singers doubled as instrumentalists, but there were full-timers engaged with non-vocal aspects of these Spanish songs: Jason Yoshida, vihuela and percussion; Erin Young, baroque guitar and lute, and collegium director Gilbert, recorder and percussion.
In the evening
The day ended with a final Emerging Artists Showcase, once more divided into three parts: for violinist, soprano/harpsichord duo and piano trio.
Violinist Rachell Ellen Wong, an IU Jacobs School alum, contributed a half hour of virtuosity as she focused on 18th-century Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini and two musicians who were indebted to him, Italian violinist/composer Bartolomeo Campagnoli as student and German violinist/pianist/composer Friedrich Wilhelm Rust as one influenced. All of her recital was for violin solo, no accompaniment, either because the composer wrote the music so or the performer changed it.
Campagnoli’s Larghetto and Fugue, Opus 10, No. 5, gave soloist Wong a chance to reveal both the warmth and then brilliance of her playing. The Rust Sonata No. 1 also proved a showcase for her technical strengths. As a windup, Wong turned to two movements from Tartini’s famous/back then “infamous” Violin Sonata in G Minor, the “Devil’s Trill.” She was quite wonderful in all she played from it but also remarkable negotiating that “trill’ section in the concluding Allegro assai. Wong is an accomplished artist, in every way an EMA “emerging artist” to watch and seek out.
Soprano Adriana Ruiz, in collaboration with harpsichordist Benjamin Katz, next on the program, apparently for reason of time, cut down their set of songs by the 17th-century female composer Barbara Strozzi; the pace of the music made recognizing the cuts difficult.
Ruiz proved, however, that she has the natural and trained soprano voice to focus on Strozzi’s heart-gripping songs. And she joined, with impact, the chorus of musicians seeking to prove that Strozzi, though now increasingly recognized, is still not sufficiently regarded as a composer of importance. Strozzi’s songs about love endured, love longed for, love betrayed and love glorified are potently expressed in songs that echo the sentiments embedded in their ardent words. Soprano Ruiz proved herself an equally ardent disciple.
The program concluded with the Costanoan Trio, musicians who hail from the San Francisco area and decided a year ago they were meant to play together. Of that, they gave ample proof on Saturday evening. Cynthia Black is the ensemble’s soulful violinist, Frederic Rosselet its resonant tone-producing cellist and Derek Tam its fortepianist of the beguiling fingers. Late 18th-century music for piano trio was the object of their preference.
That meant impressive forays into the Piano Trio in C Major of Anton Reicha and Sonata in D Major of Luigi Boccherini, both contemporaries of the dominating figure of the era, Beethoven. That meant, then, happy to say, endearing attention to Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G Major, Opus 1, No. 2, a graceful, richly lyric and notes-laden piece, all joy and subdued spectacle.
The trio exhibited artistic personality and musical excellence; there can be little doubt about its path to success.