Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 43
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
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The Dryden Ensemble Performs Tribute to Princeton Scholar William Scheide

Nancy Plum

The Dryden Ensemble took a small break from performing in Princeton a couple of years ago. Once one of the stable groups performing in Richardson Auditorium, the Baroque specialty ensemble has now taken up residence in Miller Chapel of the Princeton Seminary (which apparently is able to provide some support). Although a much smaller venue, with seating that somewhat reduces the audiences ability to see the players, Miller Chapel nonetheless seems to be suiting the ensemble well.

The Dryden Ensemble presented a tribute to Princeton scholar William Scheide on Sunday afternoon in Miller Chapel (the concert was also performed in Doylestown, Pennsylvania the night before) with a program which was, not surprisingly, devoted to J.S. Bach. The ensemble’s level of comfort and familiarity with Mr. Scheide was evident by the concert’s subtitle of “A Tribute to Bill Scheide” (one would think only close friends would call him “Bill.”)

The Dryden Ensemble’s next performance is on Sunday, January 25 at 3 p.m. at Miller Chapel. For information call the Dryden Ensemble at (609) 466-8541 or email

The informal setting possible in the chapel was evident in the first “set” — a Bach potpourri of snippets from larger works. In the opening aria from Cantata 36, the instruments spoke well, and baritone Richard Lalli no doubt recognized the chapel as an easy hall in which to sing. Although it would have been nice to hear Mr. Lalli in a space in which the vocal sound could rattle around a bit more, his lower register was especially resonant, and his lower runs were particularly fluid in his second aria, from Cantata 14. Musical ornaments and figures came through well (especially from cellist Lisa Terry and violone player Motomi Igarashi, and the Dryden maintained an appropriate collective lilt to the arias.

The eight instruments of the Dryden Ensemble worked well together, particularly with the light registration employed by organist Webb Wiggins (playing a chamber organ) and the strings and two oboes playing together in a Chorale from an unidentified source. Oboists Jane McKinley and Virginia Brewer blended especially well when playing in a lower dynamic range. Violinist Vita Wallace, together with Mr. Wiggins, demonstrated how well musical ornamentation can work in tandem in the short Allegro (from BWV 1019) for solo violin and organ.

Every space has its pros and cons, as was evident in the full solo cantata sung by Mr. Lalli, “Ich habe genug”. Given the dark nature of the cantata and its harmonic key, the effect of the strings was a bit mushy in the beginning and might have used a bigger space where the instruments could have been delineated a bit more. On the “pro” side, Mr. Lalli’s diction spoke particularly well in the recitatives, and the strings were nicely phrased in the more pastoral movements of the Cantata.

This “program of favorites” of both ensemble and honoree included a very sprightly Sinfonia (with shades of the subsequent Brandenburg Concerti) that was very easy to listen to, as well as some of Bach’s more dramatic arias. In “Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort” from Cantata 168, Mr. Lalli’s runs on the word “Donner” (“thunder”) were particularly clean and no doubt easy to sing in this hall. Also notable in the second half of the program was Lisa Terry’s Adagio with Mr. Wiggins, with very impressive dynamic swells and good command over the range of the instrument. Ms. McKinley and Ms. Brewer mesmerized the audience switching among the Baroque oboe, oboe d’amore and oboe da caccia, the latter two of which seemed to blend together more effectively.

The Dryden Ensemble seems to have a new lease on life, with a Princeton performing hall interested in supporting their endeavors (their Doylestown home has long been well established). There is certainly an audience in Princeton which loves to listen to Bach (and others of his period), and the Dryden seems to be well on the way to building a great future.

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