Exploring the Intricacies of the 17th Century
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published: July 31, 2011
The 4×4 Baroque Music Festival began as an early-music fan’s farewell to the summer, with four free concerts offered around Labor Day. This year the festival’s players — a core of early-music stars, including the harpsichordist Avi Stein and the violinist Robert Mealy — have moved it to midsummer: the series began on Friday evening and runs through Wednesday at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.
The festival’s programming philosophy has retained its exploratory spirit. Bach is revered here, and past seasons have included Vivaldi concerts and works by Handel, Telemann, Corelli and others from the Baroque Top 10. But the performers also seek out works of less widely appreciated (though not necessarily unknown) contemporaries and predecessors.
Having opened this year’s festival with a program of early-17th-century vocal music — on the grounds that the compositional breakthroughs that spawned the Baroque style occurred in that corner of the repertory — the musicians devoted the second program, on Saturday evening, to the virtuoso instrumental style that developed later in the century.
In particular the spotlight was focused on the harmonically inventive and technically demanding violin music of Biber. Mr. Mealy and Julie Andrijeski framed the program with vigorous but carefully shaped accounts of the twin solo lines in the Partitas III and I, from “Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa.”
It was apparent both in these duo works and in a pair of solo pieces from Biber’s “Mystery” Sonatas — Mr. Mealy played “The Visitation,” Ms. Andrijeski “The Assumption” — that these violinists have very different styles. Mr. Mealy works hard to bring out textural and coloristic nuance. Ms. Andrijeski produces a more velvety, consistently attractive sound, with no sacrifice in drive or vividness. But they also have the flexibility to match each other’s tone precisely. That combination of qualities served the duo partitas well. Dialogues were clearly delineated, and in tandem passages the two sounded like a single player.
Between the violin works Mr. Stein examined the unusual nexus of virtuosity and introspection in solo keyboard works by Muffat and Froberger. Froberger, represented by a Toccata in D minor and a “Meditation” — reflecting, as he noted in the work’s subtitle, “on my own future death,” some seven years before the fact — tended to ease a player into feats of keyboard athleticism. You notice the music’s inventive chromaticism long before you are struck by the intricacy of its figuration. Mr. Stein played these works, and a showier passacaglia by Muffat, with calm precision and fluidity.
In the Biber works the excellent continuo players were Mr. Stein, on both harpsichord and organ; Ezra Seltzer, on cello; and Charles Weaver, on theorbo.