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Music Review: Chatham Baroque opens with grace, bass

Monday, October 22, 2001

By David DeAngelo

They did it again. This weekend Chatham Baroque, one of Pittsburgh's pre-eminent chamber music ensembles, provided this city with yet another opportunity to see and hear quality chamber music. This weekend's concerts were the first of their 11th season. The concerts this season have been titled "The Bottom Line." The ensemble, however, is not making any kind of punning financial statement; it is exploring the nature of the "basso continuo" or "figured bass" so prevalent in 17th- and 18th-century music. It is simply a joy to hear Chatham Baroque play. For this weekend's concerts, it was joined by James O. Bolyard on Baroque bassoon.

The great thing about this ensemble is that it is able to find these absolute and mostly unknown gems of early Baroque music to perform. It is music one is not likely to hear in a standard concert hall performed by a standard ensemble playing the standard repertoire. It is an extraordinary repertoire that allows a much greater amount of freedom in performance than one is likely to stumble across elsewhere. Chatham Baroque takes full advantage of that freedom. If there is a fly in the ointment, it is that the musical language of the early Baroque can seem so standardized, at least to our "advanced" 21st-century ears, that with a dozen or so pieces, one has some difficulty telling them apart. Chatham Baroque doesn't help matters much, because its members tend to play everything with equal grace and elegance.

Bolyard, sitting in the middle of the stage and playing a copy of an early 18th-century German bassoon, was literally at the center of the performance. His abilities shined on the fourth piece of the program, the "Sonata Nona" by Dario Castello. He played the bassoon cadenza with great confidence. (It must be stated that it is a truly rare thing to even find a bassoon cadenza in the early Baroque.) The rest of the ensemble, with the exception of one or two almost tentative (but certainly not missed) entrances, was otherwise tight and solid. An anonymous Sonata also demonstrated Bolyard's abilities to a great degree. As it is a showpiece for bassoon and accompaniment, with no upper strings, Bolyard surmised that the composer must also have been a bassoonist.

As always, violinists Julie Andrijeski and Emily Davidson played brilliantly. They matched each other in pitch, tone and dynamics. It's obvious they've played together for a long time, and it's just as obvious that they enjoy doing so. The rest of the ensemble, Patricia Halverson on viola da gamba and Scott Pauley on theorbo, lute and Baroque guitar, all played very well indeed.

If there was a highlight of the program, it was the last piece performed. The "Chicacona" by Antonio Bertali was a delight and offered each player a chance to show off.

David DeAngelo is a free-lance reviewer.

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