Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Glimpse Into the 17th Century

Kaori Uemura/Jerome Hantai/Freddy Eichelberger @ The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Baltimore, MD
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Kaori Uemura: viola da gamba
Jerome Hantai: viola da gamba
Freddy Eichelberger: organ

August Kuhnel (1645-1700): Sonate in E Minor (Sonate o Partite, 1698)
John Jenkins (1592-1678): Suite in A (fantaisie, air, divisions)
John Cooper alias Coperario (1575-1628): Four Fantaisies "to the Organ"
Christopher Simpson (1615-1669): Divisions in G
William Lawes (1602-1645): Pavane "on a theme by A. Ferrabosco"
Marin Marais (1656-1728): Suite in G (First Book, 1686)

The viola da gamba is a six string instrument played upright like a cello with a unique resonance that sounds unlike contemporary string instruments. It was common in the Renaissance and Baroque periods and there is a vast body of music written for the instrument. Hearing music written for two viola da gambas with organ on the original period instruments - and in the larger-than-life ornate surroundings of the Basilica - was a rare chance to hear an aural tradition come to life.

I was surprised to hear an early Baroque sound that had less rhythmic churn compared to the large scale works of Handel or Bach that I am more familiar with. The resolved dissonances and steady, conversant cadences were a natural fit for the long reverberation times of such a large house of worship. I was also struck by the variety of melodic qualities between these different composers. John Cooper's Four Fantasies "to the Organ" had the most immediate appeal to my own sensibilities while the unfolding logic of Christopher Simpson's Divisions in G was beautifully austere.

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