NYS Baroque period-instrument ensemble engages both mind and ear
Ithaca based NYS Baroque Ensemble shines in season-opening Syracuse concert
The term “predictable” typically carries a pejorative connotation. It’s difficult to avoid the term, however, when describing period-instrument ensembles – which by their very nature are predictable in that they play works only of composers from a specific era, and do so in a manner that remains faithful to the performance practice conventions of that time.
NYS Baroque, although predictable in this sense, is a dedicated and capable period-ensemble that produces historically informed performances that consistently sparkle with a freshness of delivery and spontaneity of execution. The ensemble’s engaging Sunday afternoon program of Handel, J.S. Bach, Telemann and Janitsch, buoyed by the substantial talents of Baroque oboist Deborah Nagy, proved as much a treat to the ears as the mind.
Sunday’s audience had ample opportunity to experience the sound of the Baroque oboe, which looks like a recorder with a double-reed protruding from the top. Nagy’s instrument, a three-keyed replica made from boxwood, is a faithful reproduction of the oboe used in London during the time of Handel. As compared with its modern counterpart, the Baroque oboe’s larger bore and bigger reed produces a more mellow and gentler sound that provides a handsome complement to the timbre of the stringed instruments.
Perhaps the most challenging difference affecting listener sensibilities is the differences in pitch: NYS Baroque, like most Baroque period ensembles, tunes at A=415 Hz. – which to the ears of modern listeners sounds strikingly lower than the modern-day standard of A=440 Hz.
Nagy, playing with an accomplished ensemble of strings and harpsichord, participated in four out of the five works on the program – spinning out the ubiquitous trills, mordents and turns in the final movement of Janitsch’s Quadro for oboe and strings in G Minor with grace and élan. Especially beautiful was Nagy’s realization (execution) of the improvisational ornaments in the Largo movement of Telemann’s Concerto in A Major for oboe d’amore and strings, whose lyrical writing for this lower cousin of the oboe unfolds in the manner of an opera aria.
Nagy’s clean fingerwork in the continuous sixteenth-note passages during the opening Allegro movements of this concerto, and in Handel’s Concerto grosso, Op.3 no.3, speaks well of her command of this tricky instrument. Still, it was Nagy’s utter mastery of intonation (her command of pitch in the Siciliano movement of the Telemann Concerto was incredible), as well as carefully balanced dynamic contrasts, that impressed me the most.
Violinist (and Concertmistress) Julie Andrijeski, who like Nagy is both a scholar in the field of early music as well as a convincing practitioner on her instrument, played with spirit and gusto throughout the evening and proved a solid leader to the rest of the string section. Her melodic dialogue with Nagy in the final movement of Bach’s Concerto for oboe and violin, and her convincing terraced dynamics in that movement, was exemplary – as was her crisply executed rhythmic figures in the Allegro of Telemann’s Trio in G Major.
The only blemish on an otherwise outstanding effort by this ensemble was the tempos chosen for the slow movements, which were invariably too fast throughout the performance, and sometimes inexcusably so. The most egregious example of this was during the Bach double concerto, whose quickly paced slow movement (Adagio) all but ruined the leisurely spinning out of Bach’s lavish melodic lines shared between oboe and solo violin.
The skilled period-instrument ensemble was rounded out by Daniel Elyar and Boel Gidholm, violins; Karina Fox, viola; David Morris, cello; Heather Miller Lardin, bass; and David Yearsley, harpsichord. The group tuned carefully before each of the works played, and – on one occasion – between movements. Needless to say, pitch among the instrumentalists was superb throughout the afternoon.
What: NYS Baroque presents The Court Band: Bach, Handel, and the oboe
Where: First Unitarian Universalist Church, 109 Waring Rd., Dewitt
When: September 13, 2009
Who: Debra Nagy, baroque oboe; Julie Andrijeski, violin
Time: One hour and 50 minutes
Information: call (607) 533-4383
Ticket prices: $5 to $25
Next Syracuse concert: Music for the Virgin Queen, with soprano Laura Heimes,
8:00 P.M. October 23, First Unitarian Universalist Church, Dewitt