Philharmonia Baroque’s Shakespeare

 

By Scott MacClelland

THE CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL in January? It certainly felt like it when Philharmonia Baroque arrived Sunday afternoon at Sunset Center. They, and retiring conductor Nicholas McGegan—as much scholar and properly-trained conductor as entertainer—spirited his instrumentalists from the harpsichord through 17th and 18th century music composed on a theme of Shakespeare, with many works written specifically for Shakespeare plays and comedies. The glittering soprano of Sherezade Panthaki (right) added a fine point to the program.

Hosted by the Carmel Music Society, it would have been a perfect program for the Carmel Bach Festival of yore. But not anymore. The Bach Festival has wandered far afield from its Baroque origins and, under current conductor Paul Goodwin, to a significant degree even the music of its namesake. All the more puzzling to see Bach’s board president, Cyril Yansouni, and executive, Steve Friedlander, in the audience. Like them the music attracted an expectant turnout ready to share a similar appetite for what the Bach Festival prioritized before Goodwin was given a free hand to chart his own—often eccentric—path, one that sometimes seems more impulsive than purposeful, more whim than vision.

This concert was McGegan’s generous and plainly enthusiastic last hurrah, even as his successor, Richard Egarr, is already touring another Philharmonia Baroque program around the state. McGegan divided the fare between Shakespeare under the Stuarts and Shakespeare under the Georgians. The program handout was top heavy with program notes and song texts for this one (of six) season concerts. Additionally, an inserted 15-page brochure went over much of the same but added more background to the otherwise fairly obscure composers. The chamber ensemble consisted of strings, using Baroque practice set-up, lute and guitar, plus solo oboe and solo flute. The ‘Stuart’ first half of the program contrasted its relative austerity with the flamboyant ‘Georgian’ second half that demarked the restoration of the monarchy, in 1660. Speaking from the stage, McGegan’s witty repartee set the tone for the afternoon.

To begin, Jeremiah Clarke’s overture to Titus Andronicus, though composed well after the Restoration, provided an exact template for the opera overtures by George Frideric Handel, with its dotted rhythm processional and following fugue. Panthaki then joined the band for two songs from The Tempest, “Full fathom five” and “Where the bee sucks” in settings by Robert Johnson. These were lute songs, an English tradition that dates to the late 16th century. The relatively narrow vocal range made it easy to understand the sung words—with the house lights raised sufficiently to follow them on the page. Other composers, some with the caveat “attributed to,” were Henry Purcell, John Weldon, Matthew Locke and James Paisible. Just ahead of the latter’s suite from The Humours of Sir John Falstaff, oboist Gonzalo Ruiz joined the continuo ensemble to engage in a duet with the soprano for “Halcyon Days,” music attributed to Purcell.

To open the concert’s second half, flutist Janet See joined Panthaki and the consort for “When daisies pied” from As you Like it, in a setting by Thomas Arne. This time, giggles got the audience going on the word cuckoo, a back-and-forth echo-fest. “Pardon, goddess of the night” from Much Ado about Nothing turned to the minor, with plaintive appoggiaturas and a brief but stormy “B” section, the work of composer Thomas Chilcot and clear evidence of the rise of the Baroque da capo aria. Chilcot’s “Orpheus with his lute” from Henry VIII, a full-ranged coloratura operatic showpiece, displayed the flute against a backdrop of pizzicato strings. (Henry VIII, also known as All Is True, by Shakespeare and John Fletcher appeared in the First Folio of 1623, seven years after the Bard’s death.) JC Smith’s overture to The Tempest was in fact a dance suite. That led to two more songs from The Tempest, “O bid your faithful Ariel fly” and “Come unto these yellow sands,” by the short-lived Thomas Linley, the latter bringing back the oboe. McGegan’s concert ended as he introduced a latter-day quodlibet, Charles Dibdin’s dances composed for producer David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee 1769, a spectacle that turned Stratford, the playwright’s birth- and death-place, into a perpetual tourist destination.               

Woodwinds of Winter

By Roger Emanuels

CONTINUING THE POPULAR ‘Spotlight on the Symphony’ series of chamber music concerts by members of the Santa Cruz Symphony, “Woodwinds of Winter” allowed the principal wind players to express their talent away from the hustle and bustle of the full symphony orchestra. The quartet of Laurie Seibold, flute; Bennie Cottone, oboe; Karen Sremac, clarinet and Erin Irvine, bassoon presented a delightful mix of classical-to-contemporary composers. There is little music available for this combination, much of it rarely, if ever, heard. A quartet by Karl

Goepfart was new to this listener by a composer who reflects the romantic sensibility of Mendelssohn and Schumann. But as the first piece on the program, the acoustic balance between the instruments was not settled. Samper Recital Hall at Cabrillo College is kind to wind instruments, and the quartet presented a warm sound. The bassoon was the leading voice, which often covered the others. This imbalance was corrected as the concert unfolded and the players grew more accustomed to the room’s acoustics.

Flutist Seibold (pictured above) is a charming and engaging speaker and player, but the interludes of talking throughout the concert, though presenting interesting insight into the instruments, only detracted from the flow of the music. Speaking without a microphone left many in the audience without a clue of what was being said. A microphone appeared after intermission, to their relief. The spoken interludes would have been more effective had they been shorter and more concise.

Given the paucity of literature for this combination of four instruments, many of the pieces on the program were for various combinations of trios, each offering a contrasting texture. Malcolm Arnold’s Divertimento is a series of six character pieces for flute, oboe and clarinet, played with delightful changes of mood. Jacques Ibert’s Five Pieces requires oboe, clarinet and bassoon. A trio sonata movement by Telemann calls for flute, oboe and bassoon. The success of the program was due to the variety of music, with seven compositions comprising 24 movements. Only the Three Pieces by Eugène Bozza lagged in energy, closing the first half with a whimper. The highly attractive Four Bagatelles by the Russian conductor and composer Andrey Rubtsov closed the concert with four movements of enchanting and energetic music, marking the end of an entertaining and solid program of woodwind chamber music.