Richardson Baroque Players: Despite a few Rough Edges Sunday Afternoon, Chamber Players Presented a Courtly Program
The Princeton University Music Department recently spawned another performing consort to complement the myriad vocal and instrumental ensembles already a part of the department. The Richardson Baroque Players has a slightly different mission than its sister Richardson Chamber Players, with a focus on music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Players, under the leadership of Michael Pratt and Nathan Randall, presented their second in a series of concerts featuring the chamber music of Berlin Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium with music from the Court of Frederick the Great. The program, with music of J.S. Bach, his son, and several of his contemporaries, was unfortunately affected at the outset when Mary Nessinger, who had the flu, could not perform the most interesting works on the program, which were by the rarely-heard Carl Heinrich Graun. The ensemble ably replaced these arias with one of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.
Freelance composers were not commonplace in the 18th century; most composers were in the service of an institution (either religious or educational) or the court. Johann Joachim Quantz served Frederick the Great directly, and composed more than 500 works for the flute. The Richardson Baroque Players performed a typical three-movement concerto by Quantz featuring flutist Sandra Miller, a specialist in this period of music, and a faculty member at the State University of New York.
Six other members of the Baroque Players accompanied Ms. Miller in her solo violinists Nancy Wilson and Dongmyung Ahn, violist David Miller, cellist Vivian Barton Dozor, double bassist Motomi Igarashi, and harpsichordist Wendy Young. Ms. Wilson and Ms. Ahn played as if their two instruments were one. The overall ensemble sound was serenely homogenous, with a great amount of communication between players and obviously great thought given to the performance. Playing without vibrato, the strings contained their sound as if in a nicely cushioned box.
Unfortunately, Ms. Nessinger was not the only source of problems during the program; tuning difficulties crept into the harpsichord in the C.P.E. Bach Sonata which featured Mr. Miller on viola. Ms. Young bravely addressed these tuning ills, and as much as her right hand on the harpsichord made a nice second solo instrument in Bach's Sonata in G Minor for Viola and Cembalo, the tuning issues never really went away for the rest of the afternoon. However, these two instruments were well-matched in their melodic figures and ornamentation, with the second movement, Larghetto, the most interesting of the work.
J.S. Bach's Trio Sonata from Musikalische Opfer (for which Frederick the Great provided the theme) brought out tuning problems of another sort between Ms. Wilson's violin and Ms. Miller's baroque flute. These two instruments did not seem to hang together, although the piece was well controlled by Ms. Barton Dozor and Ms. Young. Ms. Miller demonstrated particular agility in the final movement.
The work which showed the ensemble at its best was the one which was likely prepared in the last few days Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. All of these players have no doubt played this work many times before, and the ensemble's swells and dynamic shading was very uniform. Ms. Young provided especially even and steady playing on the harpsichord, especially in the cadenza to the first movement.
Sunday afternoon's concert showed that this music, some of which is not often heard, has great appeal. Although the seven soloists did not always an ensemble make, nonetheless, as could be heard in the Bach Brandenburg Concerto, when they did perform together orchestrally, the result was certainly worth the effort.