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12.4.05

Twilight Concert at the Corcoran

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is home to a little jewel box of a room in their Salon Doré, decorated with gold panels, gilding, and a large ceiling mural. If it has the feel of stepping into an 18th-century central European royal chamber, it's because it is exactly that: a salon of the Clermont mansion, commissioned by the Comte d'Orsay and transferred to New York before being bequeathed to the Corcoran. The room alone would be worth the trip, but last Sunday (April 10), a Twilight Concert was held in this room. Daylight Saving Time may have made that a slight misnomer, but no finer and more intimate setting could have been found for this chapter of Washington's Paris on the Potomac celebration. A turquoise-blue harpsichord greeted the audience and fit the decor like a glove.

The program presented one of my favorite composers, Georg Philipp Telemann, the early Baroque composer Jakob Froberger, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Performing works for transverse flute and harpsichord were the young Messrs. St. Martin and Pearl. Colin St. Martin, who honed his traverso skills in Brussels under Berthold Kuijken (a member of the eponymous early music gang), played the Telemann Suite in D Minor, and a few uneven spots aside, he played it very well. Adam Pearl accompanied him with equal skill and commitment.

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J. S. Bach, Complete Sonatas for Flute
In the Froberger Suite in G Minor for harpsichord—very much in the French style, with its imitations of dance movements Allemande, Gigue, Courante, and Sarabande—Mr. Pearl was able to communicate some sense of the joy it is to play these works. A few slips here and there could not distract from that. Bach's Partita in A Minor (BWV 1013) for flute solo is a very fine little work covering a surprising range of emotions. Mr. St. Martin's own Prélude was tacked on to the front; the Sarabande seemed curiously missing. While there were several weaker spots, the performance also offered moments that were downright ravishing.

Telemann's Concerto III in A was marvelous from the first note on. Not in the French style, in which Telemann was such an astute master, but no less beautiful for that. Pearl and St. Martin both turned in their finest and most charged playing and gave the work an exciting edge. Even when presented so well, the work may still not convince anyone today that Telemann is vastly superior to Bach, but it certainly offered a hint as to why their contemporaries thought so. (Bach, incidentally, only got his job in Leipzig because the first choice, Telemann, and the second choice, Christoph Graupner, declined.)

The subsequent reception, with French wine and conversation amid the paintings of the Corcoran Gallery, rounded a wonderful evening off splendidly.

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