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Ensemble 415 at the LoC

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Cyrilla Barr, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge: American Patron of Music
Last night, the Library of Congress opened the 85th season of its free concert series in the auditorium that Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge built. Carrying out the mission of providing music to the nation, the Library of Congress has presented over three thousand concerts in its beautiful performance space, all open to the public and free of charge. While some seasons in our estimation have been better than others, the music is always good and an extraordinary service to the United States. Washingtonians are lucky enough to be the primary beneficiaries.

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Albinoni, Sinfonie a Cinque, op. 2,
Ensemble 415
One of Mrs. Coolidge's interests was the sponsorship of endangered repertories, the commissioning of new music from living composers, but also the recuperation of early music through research and performance practice reconstruction. The latest historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble invited to the LoC was Ensemble 415, a group based in the Franche-Comté and on its first U.S. tour this month. (The concert was co-sponsored by the French Embassy and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.) The program featured three five-part sinfonias (sonatas) from the op. 2 of Tomaso Albinoni, featured on a CD released by the group last year. Only one of these pieces, the C major sonata that is first in the collection, made a strong argument for rethinking Albinoni's status as a second- or third-tier composer. This sonata da chiesa features extensive imitation among the parts, showing Albinoni's more learned side, something that this performance brought out well, strongest in its taut sense of ensemble and cooperative, well-conceived use of dynamic shaping to underscore formal divisions.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Ensemble 415 at Library of Congress (Washington Post, October 11)

Andrew Lindemann Malone, Baroque on an Even Keel: Ensemble 415 at the Library of Congress (DMV Classical, October 10)
The group's playing was crisp and clean, with exciting embellishments added lavishly, especially in the slow movements. Harpsichordist Michele Barchi created inventive continuo realizations, filling in quiet moments with interesting figuration and melodic bits, and cellist Gaetano Nasilio stood out for his refined sound, never forced and always true in intonation, that anchored the ensemble. A G minor sonata by Georg Muffat, no. 2 from Armonico Tributo, again made a case yet again for the rediscovery of this German composer's music: a series of gorgeous miniatures, both slow movements and dances, with an adventurous harmonic vocabulary and interesting textures and rhythmic invention. It was also good to discover a work by Henricus Albicastro, a Swiss composer whose music is largely unknown today, although his four-part concerto is hardly a masterpiece. Only the playing of the group's leader, the highly regarded violinist Chiara Banchini, detracted from the achievement of this concert, plagued by sour intonation and occasionally imprecise attacks and articulation. This was most noticeable in a fairly mediocre performance of a reconstruction of the violin concerto (BWV1056r) thought to be the original version of Bach's F minor harpsichord concerto. In the other pieces, where the first violin part was not featured so prominently as soloist, she was much stronger.

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