There were six of them—six Baroque concertos performed in a concert of the Chamber Music Society in Alice Tully Hall. Four of those concertos were by Italians: Albinoni, Locatelli, Tartini, and Vivaldi. The others were by Germans: Telemann and Bach. Of course, Bach was known to write Italian concertos too.
The Albinoni was his Concerto in D minor for Oboe, Strings, and Continuo, Op. 9, No. 2. I thought of something Itzhak Perlman said, many years ago—he was talking about the “period-practice movement,” then all the rage. He said something like, “Every time I turn on the radio, I hear scratch, scratch, hoot, hoot.” Stephen Taylor, the CMS soloist, did not hoot. He sang beautifully on his instrument, with color and nuance.
Let me pause to note something common in today’s concerts: people turn pages with their foot. That is, a pedal, on the floor, turns the pages of their computer tablets. I’m still amazed to see this, though amazement should eventually cease.
The Telemann was an E-major affair for flute, oboe, viola, et al. Our flutist was Sooyun Kim, who appeared in a beautiful yellow dress. Like Taylor in the Albinoni, she provided color. She also played admirably—with freedom and purity and other things you want in flute playing (and other playing). Paul Neubauer, the violist, brought his usual mastery. If I were czar, however, I would make him play his Baroque music with a touch more purple—with more of his usual marvelous sound.
The final notes, Neubauer played with considerable authority—as if to say, “This is the end.”
Rounding out the first half of the program was the concerto by Pietro Antonio Locatelli: his Concerto in G minor for Violin, Strings, and Continuo, Op. 3, No. 6. The violin soloist was young James Thompson, from Cleveland. He did not scratch. He allowed vibrato in his sound, for which I could have hugged him. Also, he played with great character—musical character. Even the rests were charged with musicality. Furthermore, he was virtuosic—not just “Baroque virtuosic” but “virtuosic virtuosic.” His cadenzas were extraordinary. He played like some mad Baroque Gypsy, with a polished technique.
As the audience roared with applause, a man behind me said to his wife, “What’s his name?” Good question: that name, again, is “James Thompson.”
Giuseppe Tartini may be known for a violin sonata—the “Devil’s Trill”—but CMS offered his Concerto in A major for Cello, Strings, and Continuo. The soloist was another youngster, Mihai Marica, from Romania. Critics often describe cello playing as “noble” and “aristocratic.” This was true of Mr. Marica’s. It was also technically assured, which might go without saying, but which should be said nonetheless.
What’s a “gardellino” (also “cardellino,” in Italian)? It is a goldfinch. And that is the nickname of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D major for flute et al. Doing the honors as the goldfinch was Sooyun Kim. Again, she played with her freedom. There was no tightness whatsoever detectable in her playing. What’s more, she played with great pleasure—a pleasure communicable to an audience.
“That was a crowd-pleaser,” said the lady behind me.
Bach’s musical offering was his Concerto in C minor for Violin, Oboe, Strings, and Continuo. Best about this, in my opinion, was the middle movement, Adagio—during which Ani Kavafian, the violinist, and Stephen Taylor, the oboist, sang while others “pizzed” (played pizzicato notes) behind them. Let me note, too, that Michael Sponseller, the harpsichordist, played with his legs crossed. He was the most relaxed person in the house.
At some point in the evening, I thought, “Six Baroque concertos in a row is a lot.” Then I thought, “It would not have been for someone in the Baroque era”—and then I thought of an exchange I had with a co-worker long ago.
We were going out to dinner. I suggested an Indian place. “Fine,” he said. “In fact, I had Indian food for lunch.” I said, “Should we go someplace else then?” He answered, “You know, there are millions and millions of people, in India, who have Indian food for every meal, for as long as they live.”
We went to the Indian place.