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REBEL Ensemble at Clarice Smith

REBEL EnsembleAfter hearing music by François Rebel from Opera Lafayette earlier in the week, Washington Baroque fans had the chance to hear the REBEL Ensemble at the Clarice Smith Center on Sunday (last heard in Washington at the Library of Congress in 2005). The intimate Gildenhorn Theater was nearly full, including several people from the city's early music scene. The program was named for Vivaldi's collection L'Estro Armonico, but only two of the twelve concerti in op. 3 were performed. No. 1 is not all that interesting to my ears, but no. 2 is a favorite. REBEL's performance included a jarring version of the first movement's harmonic study in short chords and a jaunty ritornello in the second movement. The solo playing here, as in several of the selections, stood out more for a slightly labored quality than for taking one's breath away by sheer virtuosity (think Richard Tognetti or Giuliano Carmignola).

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Rebel Baroque Orchestra (Washington Post, October 9)
On some pieces, especially on the first half, rhythmic excitement seemed to reign at the expense of expressive line, with a string sound that was a little harsh and metallic. Many of the pieces featured a part for solo trumpet, performed well but not without blemish by David Kjar on the temperamental natural trumpet. The best part of the experience was the opportunity to discover Baroque marginalia like the Christmas-specific sonata by one Angelo Ragazzi (ca. 1680-1750), which combined music of mystical apparition for the angel's message to the shepherds and appropriately rustic music for their joyous response to seeing Jesus in the manger. A sonata by Alessandro Stradella (1644-1682) was of less interest than a concerto for four violins by Giuseppe Valentini (1680-1759), which featured one of the high points of the concert in a well-performed version of the piece's extended fugue.

The best discoveries came, of course, from the back catalogue of Telemann, for the second time this weekend. Not so much the Ouverture in D that opened the program as the penultimate Concerto for Four Violins, without basso continuo (G major, TWV 40, No. 201). The number of pieces for that combination cannot be that large, and one had the impression of Telemann accepting a self-imposed technical challenge. It is a beautiful work, especially the very odd harmonic turns in the third movement, and it was played with exceptional poise. An equally good find was the brief Concerto in D that concluded the concert, for solo trumpet and strings.

REBEL Ensemble will be playing this program at venues around the United States, including two appearances on the Friends of Music series at Dumbarton Oaks (October 14 and 15, 8 pm).

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