A pair of programs on Sunday brought the Bloomington Early Music Festival to an end, and successfully so. Beefed by the inclusion of young artists sponsored by Early Music America, the national organization committed to the furthering of early music scholarship and performance practices, BLEMF — over a 10-day period — managed to present a treasury of concerts.
On Sunday afternoon in Trinity Episcopal Church, Les Ordinaires, an ensemble devoted to use of 17th- and 18th-century instruments (copies thereof), continued a series of festival programs fixed on French repertoire here, more specifically, on “Birth of the Flute: Songs with and without Words.”
That meant a spotlight on the flutist in the group, Leela Breithaupt, a virtuoso on the baroque instrument and Les Ordinaires’ director. For one span of about 20 minutes, she tooted and tweeted and released long and longing tones through Michel Pignolet de Monteclair’s “Premier Concert pour la flute traversiere,” a series of 13 short pieces: airs, gigues, minuets, rondeaus, and such. She never faltered; her lips and fingers conquered a gargantuan exercise, romping and floating and coursing through very challenging music.
Breithaupt continued to be tonally prominent during Monteclair’s “Premier Suite from Brunetes ancienes et modernes,” an eight-piece collection topped by the expressive soprano voice of Minnesota-based Carrie Henneman Shaw, tasked with anguishing through tales of misbegotten love. Shaw added Monteclair’s take on the Ariadne and Bacchus misadventures in mythology, another test of endurance for her voice. She endured without problem.
Through much of the afternoon concert, the ensemble’s other musicians — violinist Allison Nyquist, violist da gamba Erica Rubis, and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour – were asked to enrich the performance and surely did. More Monteclair and an air by Jacques Hotteterre filled out the program.
In the evening
The evening festival finale in Auer Hall featured the Festival Orchestra and a series of outstanding soloists in German and Italian music of the baroque. It was performed in memory of the late Victor Harnack, a Bloomingtonian-in-retirement who gave immeasurable assistance to BLEMF in times of need. Friend Victor would have gloried in Sunday’s music.
A star in the early music firmament, the wonderful Ingrid Matthews, an alumna of IU’s Jacobs School and early participant in BLEMF events, returned from her now Seattle-based life to both direct the orchestra and add a solo highlight. That highlight was Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto Number 2 in G Minor, “Summer,” one of the composer’s “of course it’s Vivaldi” gallops, delightful to listen to and a humdinger to play. My, how Matthews played it!
More Vivaldi, the Concerto in B Minor, called upon cellist Kevin Flynn and a quartet of violinists from the orchestra (Maria Romero, Reynaldo Patino, Micah Fleming and Anna Maberry) to move front and center for their chance to vanquish the Vivaldi tests. They, too, distinguished themselves.
George Frideric Handel was represented by his Suite in G Major and a scene from the opera “Alcina.” The suite, in five movements either ornamented or stately, put the splendid 16-member orchestra to work and, as a concert opener, set the high quality tone for all that followed. The “Alcina” excerpt, an interplay involving Alcina (Paula Francisco), Ruggiero (Kia Marie Frank, and Bradamante (Elijah McCormack), as sung, correctly captured the flavor of bantering.
Soprano McCormack returned to the stage, took an almost motionless position, assumed an attitude of accepted sorrow, and let his voice create tragedy, that of Orfeo grieving the loss of his beloved Eurydice in Luigi Rossi’s early 17th-century version of the tale: Suicide is contemplated as a means for reunion with her in death. McCormack’s interpretation, never overwrought, was stunning. This young soprano is turning out to be a very special artist.
Jory Vinikour, on harpsichord, took on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto Number 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052. In a brilliant performance, he produced lyric sorrow during the concerto’s middle movement, an Adagio, but inconceivably furious, fast, and florid masses of notes in the surrounding Allegros. Breathtaking.
Sunday’s program ended with the Concerto Grosso in D Major by Arcangelo Corelli, most of its pages — like Vivaldi’s — filled with quicksilver, pump-and-saw passages. With violinist Matthews at the helm, the orchestra grasped hold of the music’s technical dares and vanquished them. We had good music right to the end.