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Academy of Ancient Music, National Gallery of Art

As perhaps the high point of the National Gallery of Art’s sixty-fifth season of free concerts, last Sunday the U.K.-based Academy of Ancient Music delivered. Forty minutes before the doors opened, a line had formed that snaked down the east wing and looped all the way around the large atrium. This young, gentrified audience was eager to hear early music performed by specialist musicians who do not spend 90% of their time performing only music written by Mozart and later composers. Can one even imagine members of the upper strings, winds, and brass sections of America’s symphony orchestras performing standing up?

The program was led from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr and included works by Handel, Telemann, and J. S. Bach. With lots of eye contact, Egarr’s interactions with the group of about twenty musicians alternated from being very active to completely still. Instead of racing in brisk movements as some specialist groups do, Egarr’s tempi made sure that each movement was strong and grounded and allowed the musicians enough space to shape phrases with interesting detail.

The Concerto Grosso, op. 3, no. 2 of Handel opened the program, while the Concerto Grosso, op. 3, no. 1 closed it. The opening Vivace movement that began the program had some coordination problems between the sections of the group due to the very wet acoustic of the NGA’s West Garden Court. The narrow room with incredibly high ceilings muddied the bass sounds of the orchestra, which was no fault of the musicians. For the rest of the program, the group became more comfortable with the acoustic. The oboe solo by Frank de Bruine in the super-mellow Largo movement of this concerto was very delicate, with fluid ornamentation. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 of Bach featured Pavlo Beznosiuk deftly playing the bariolage figures in the Presto movement, though not with ease. In the Allegro movement, Beznosiuk took the liberty of turning his solo bits into something resembling a recitative by drastically slowing the tempo. This was perhaps over-indulgent and caused the movement to lose cohesion because of the tempo change.

Written in honor of Hamburg’s maritime industry, the ten-movement Water Music Suite of Telemann featured various French dance forms. In particular, the Louré depicting “Neptune in Love” had a fascinating rhythmic structure. The concluding Canarie somewhat sweetly depicted “The Merry Sailors.” The Largo in the concluding Concerto Grosso of Handel offered a variety of solos. For example, first there was the oboe and 1st violin in unison, then oboe and recorders in unison, then oboe and violin back in forth, then back to oboe and violin in unison, and finally ornamental runs by the oboe and violin to set the half-cadence before the final Allegro movement. Egarr described the encore – the final movement of Handel’s fifth opus 3 concerto – as “more over-caffeinated Handel…think of it as hairy monster chasing a smaller, less hairy monster.”

There are twice as many free concerts at the National Gallery of Art in May and June, with the addition of Wednesday concerts every week at 12:10 pm. This week, pianist Thomas Hrynkiw plays a recital in the East Building Auditorium (today, 12:10 pm) and soprano Anna Maria Pammer gives a recital of music by Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern with pianist Markus Vorzellner (May 6, 6:30 pm) in the West Building Lecture Hall.

1 comment:

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks for the fine review, Michael. We found Pavlo Beznosiuk's rubato violin solos in the Bach Concerto refreshing and fascinating, though perhaps on the edge of mannerist.

By the way, the doubled number of free concerts at the National Gallery continues in June, as well as May; as the NGA joins with the Corcoran Gallery and College in celebrating Central European Modernism prior to the 1939 beginning of World War II. As you know, the NGA will celebrate with films, musical recitals based upon nationality, and art and lectures.


(Also, the program by Pammer and Vorzellner next Sunday may be different than what you give. Those wanting strictly Second Viennese lieder may have to attend the free recital by that pair at the Austrian Embassy, also this coming week.)