Thursday, February 28, 2013

Concert: Musica Pacifica (11/30/2012)

First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, CA

Musica Pacifica
Judith Linsenberg, recorder
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin/viola d'amore
Washington McClain, oboe
Josh Lee, cello/viola da gamba
Charles Sherman, harpsichord
Clara Rottsolk, soprano

Noël Noël! - Christmas Music from 18th-century Italy, France, and Germany

Handel: Sonata in G major, Op.5 No.4
Traditional English Carols :  Sweet was the song the Virgin sung
                                                  Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
Vivaldi: Concerto in D major, RV 95 "La Pastorella"
Telemann: Mein Glaube ringt in Letzen Zuegen

Biber: Mystery Sonata No.1 "The Annunciation"
Bach: Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 152

French Noëls: A la venue de Noël    (Charpentier) 
                        Or nous dites Marie
                        Joseph est bien marie
                        Noël III, en Musette, en Dialogue et en Duo  (Daquin)
                        Un flambeau, Jeannette Isabella 
Handel: Pifa from Messiah
Bach: Stein der ueber all Schaetze, from BWV 152
           Floesst mein Heiland, from BWV 248
           Gottlob, nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, from BWV 28

近三個月前去的場音樂會,由Musica Pacifica演奏與耶誕和耶蘇有關的主題的曲目,算是提前為Christmas慶祝。Musica Pacifica是舊金山灣區眾多室內古樂團裡的另一個團。他們錄的Marais Pieces en Trio的CD,其實我早在幾年前就已經購得了,所以對這個團並不陌生。另外,Musica Pacifica的小提琴Blumenstock女士,除了聽過她無數次的表演外,更是近幾年透過大鍵琴老師的介紹,而互相熟識。

這場音樂會,Musica Pacifica找來了東岸的雙簧管家Washington McClain(曾是加拿大Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra成員,現在是另一個加拿大古樂團L'Ensemble Arion的雙簧管首席)助陣,也請了灣區的女聲樂家Clara Rottsolk演唱若干的歌曲。


開場的Handel奏鳴曲原是三重奏鳴曲,不過Musica Pacifica是演奏Handel親手改編的四重奏版。因為這樣,所以Blumenstock這首改拉較大,音域較低的柔音中提琴(viola d'amore)。可能是開場沒暖夠的原因,所以吹直笛的Linsenberg和吹雙簧管的McClain除了音色處理和音準都有些問題。而我們坐在二樓,Blumenstock中提琴聲音也有點過於暗沉。

Vivaldi的協奏曲,是給直笛,雙簧管,小提琴,大提琴,以及數字低音,不過裡面的主角無疑是直笛。Linsenberg的表現非常紮實,但沒有讓我感到有特別突出的地方。或許這首曲子本身不是Vivaldi最上乘的,不過他的音樂充滿了給音樂家表現的機會,不過Musica Pacifica整團的演奏風格沒有那麼外放。

但說到Blumenstock的獨奏,則是另外一回事。她的演奏大膽,樂句修飾漂亮,讓我百聽不厭。看到節目單上有Biber Mystery Sonatas的第一首,讓我興奮不已。雖然以前聽過Biber的小提琴Passacaglia現場,但Mystery Sonatas裡的其他小惿琴奏鳴曲,是頭一回。Blumenstock在演奏前還跟觀眾講解一下音樂大概,並分享她如何想像這首曲子的故事。這首Annunciation(天使報喜)的奏鳴曲,大致上分「前奏–主題與變奏–結尾」三段。Blumenstock很搞笑地說,她腦子浮現的畫面是,前奏是天使來到人間向Mary報喜。但Mary吃驚地回答:「啥?怎麼可能?」,讓天使得無奈地重覆他的話,也就是主題變奏的由來。最後,Mary聽懂了,天使安地回到天堂,也就是結尾的部份~~ 講歸講,Blumenstock演奏起這首曲子,可是充滿架勢,緩急輕重的處理,皆合我胃口。直接明講,這首對我而言是音樂會的高潮。

然後,Musica Pacifica也突然換演奏曲目。他們將一首Corrette的聖誕協奏曲,換成了Bach清唱劇的Sinfonia。換的原因也很單純,他們就是不喜歡,甚至可以說受不了Corrette那首。而BWV 152,是Bach眾清唱劇中,唯一有用viola d'amore編制的一首。因此,Blumenstock表演這首時回去改拉她的柔音提琴。

Rottsolk唱的聲樂曲,除了幾首英國和法國的聖誕名謠外,剩下的都是德國的Telemann和Bach清唱劇中的詠嘆調。Rottsolk比起之前去聽的Les Sirenes的兩位女聲樂家,聲音更厚實些。這些aria多半是較慢的曲子,而Rottsolk的聲音也勻稱甜美。Bach的曲子中,最有意思的一首,莫過於那首Floesst mein Heiland,不斷運用到許多回聲效果(echo effect)。除了有Rottsolk和雙簧管之間的呼應之外,連Musica Pacifica的成員也下海唱人聲回音的部份。這是既動聽又逗趣的一首,而McClain甩掉音樂會剛開始不穩的情況,在這首的表現美麗極了。

終於有機會聽見Musica Pacifica的現場表演。雖然整體表現不如預期地亮眼(耳),不過是個節目多樣,另人心情愉悅的音樂會。

後記:這篇放在草稿堆裡甚久。今天要發文的時候,發現oboist Washington McClain今天不幸逝世的消息,對於古樂界是令人遺憾的一件事。

chamber organ and harpsichord

This concert took place roughly 3 months ago last November, where Bay Area early music chamber group Musica Pacifica performed a night of Christmas-themed music, in an early celebration of the holiday.  The group is not new to me, as I own one of their recordings of Marais's Pieces en Trio.  Their violinist, Elizabeth Blumenstock, is no stranger to me, having to know her personally these years through Elaine.  I have not heard their recorder player Judith Linsenberg nor the group play live before, so this was definitely one on my list. 

For this concert, they are joined by Baroque oboist Washington McClain, a member of the Canadian ensemble L'Ensemble Arion and former member of another Canadian Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik.  In addition, they have Bay Area female soprano Clara Rottsolk perform the vocal pieces. 

As expected with Christmas-themed music, most of the pieces played here are generally slow and calm, or there is a movement with the Pastorale mood, like the 2nd movement of Vivaldi's concerto.  I think the only exception here is probably Biber's Mystery Sonata No.1, where the virtuosity is just so obvious, setting itself apart from the others.  

The opening piece is a sonata of Handel, or should I say, an arrangement of a trio sonata by Handel himself.  The new arrangement allows for a quartet of voices, here played by the recorder, oboe, viola d'amore, and continuo.  I felt that Linsenberg and McClain weren't quite warmed up, and there were patches of sloppy playing.  Also, Blumenstock's viola d'amore did not project quite so well on the second floor where we were on. 

The next major instrumental piece, Vivaldi's "Pastorella" concerto, again scored for 4 parts, is really the recorder's spotlight.  Linsenberg's playing is solid, reminding me of someone along the lines of Marion Verbruggen, who does everything right but lacks the spontaneity or flamboyance of the younger players like Oberlinger or Steger.  It might not have been Vivaldi's finest music, but his music offers opportunities for players to push for something extra, yet Musica Pacifica as a whole is content with the middle-of-the-road approach.  

The same could not be said of Blumenstock's rendition of the Biber.  Her bold and feisty approach yet beautifully crafted lines often make me look forward to her performances.  Arguably, this Biber sonata was the highlight of the concert to me.  Before playing the piece, Blumenstock even had a few humorous comments on how she envisions the piece.  Those who are familiar with this piece know that the sonata is mainly structured of three sections: Prelude - Aria and Variations - Finale.  Blumenstock likens the Prelude as the angel descending and bringing the news to the Virgin Mary.  In total disbelief, Mary asks, "What?".  This prompts the angel to repeat its remarks multiple times, hence the Aria and Variations.  Upon finally accepting the news, the angel ascends back to heaven, in the Finale.  Not sure if this is what Biber had in mind, but it sure was an interesting touch.  Needless to say, Blumenstock put out a breath-taking performance.       

Musica Pacifica also announced a last-minute program change, substituting a Corrette concerto (which apparently none of their members really liked) to a Bach sinfonia.  The BWV 152 cantata is Bach's only one which calls for a viola d'amore instrumentation, where we see Blumenstock go back to for this piece.

Aside from the short English and French Christmas tunes, the vocal pieces are aria excerpts from Telemann and Bach's cantatas.  Rottsolk's voice strikes me as meatier than the two sopranos from the previous Les Sirenes concert, though sweet and balanced.  The most memorable aria was none other than Floesst mein Heiland, which features numerous echo effects, either the oboe with itself, or the oboe and the voice(s), where Musica Pacifica's Linsenberg joins in as the echo voice.  Here we see Bach's lighter but also sensual side at the same time.  McClain's oboe passage here could not have been played any prettier.

In the end, it was finally good to hear Musica Pacifica play live, along with a diverse program.  It might not have been the most inspired concert, but it was nonetheless a very enjoyable one.

Epilogue:  I've been behind on reviewing these concerts on time.  At the time of finally putting this review together, I learned of the unfortunate news that the oboist Washington McClain has passed away unexpectedly.  It is sad to see another early music member go away.

Musica Pacifica (and me)

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